Last year, while I was on a trip with some folks from across the country, a woman from the Midwest brought up Hurricane Katrina one evening at dinner. She said that we New Orleanians had ourselves to blame for the deaths, injuries and general misery in the wake of the storm, because all of us hadn’t evacuated the city when told to.
Well, I guess you could say that … if everything were as cut and dried as she seemed to think it was.
I explained that not all of us had ready access to the money for at least two or three tanks of gas, two or three nights in a motel — if they didn’t have relatives to stay with and could even find a room. That some feared their homes would be vulnerable to looters during their absence, and that evacuation is an incredible hassle, period, for many people. It isn’t as big a hassle as being trapped in front of the convention center for five days, but some of us have rolled the dice so many times and won that we get real torn up about whether to go or stay.
There are kids and sick people and old folks and even beloved pets to consider, and those familiar with South Louisiana know how long it’s going to take to get out when everybody’s going and you have to cross water to go north or east or west, and south is definitely out.
Anyhow, I wound up asking her politely to just stop talking about it before she either hurt my feelings or made me mad — which she really already had done — and somebody else finally changed the subject.
I got to thinking about this episode the other day when the weathermen and women reported that a tropical storm brushed by Jamaica on its way to the Gulf of Mexico. We’ve mostly been spared the rigors of evacuation since Katrina, but in the few years leading up to her arrival I remember several of these painful road trips. We were fortunate: being jobless seniors — no worries about unnecessarily missing work — and in having a small weekend house in Abita Spring for a few years, we were able to leave New Orleans before the crowd did, and then take off again if the weathermen said we should. We were in no danger of flooding, being well north of I-12, but the possibility of falling trees and the inevitable lack of electricity made it prudent to head to relatives’ homes in northeast Texas.
One hurricane season, we heard over the car radio, all the way into Vicksburg, that a storm had turned away from our city. But by then we were too tired to fight the traffic back, we had checked for motel rooms and found there were no vacancies, and it seemed that the easiest course was to just shoot for Shreveport, go 40 miles further into Texas and give my cousins the pleasure of our company for a day or two. Since we kind of wore them out, to say the least, during the long days after Katrina, we’ve fixed on my sister’s digs outside Tuscaloosa as a shelter for the future.
In addition to that plan, here are a couple of others I’ve made should our mayor tell us to get up and get moving this hurricane season:
– I will NOT drive my car behind my husband’s out of the city and two or three hundred miles away because he doesn’t want either one of them to get wet. I’ve done this twice. What the heck is insurance for?
– I will be sure to grab my cell phone, my laptop and my e-reader and their chargers for possible use during my absence, as I sweep through the house, but nothing else except one big box — not the usual four — of family photos that I’ve sorted through for this kind of occasion. Prints and posters and paintings will stay on the walls of our home, and travel souvenirs and bric-a-brac can take their chances no matter how much I love them. (Perhaps I won’t leave behind my late mother-in-law’s precious piece of Newcomb pottery.)
– Shoes — I will take them all, because I wear a size 10 triple A and you can’t imagine the trouble replacing them would be. I will take enough clothes not to have to wash for a week.
I’m not trying to be funny here — just ask those who’ve lost it all how much it hurts. But it‘s best to get your priorities straight long before car-loading time.
Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at email@example.com.