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Sunday, September 25, 2005

Running From Rita (Bubba's Sister in Houston):

I do not have a Blog, however my brother was kind enough to let me do a "guest appearance" on his.....

Sunday morning, September 25

Our story is not a storm story - it is an evacuation story. I pondered just what to title this - several ideas came to mind: Running from Rita, How Rita Ruined My Week, Rita is a Bitch......but decided to just call it Reflections on Rita. Mine is certainly not the worst evacuation story by any means; it is only one story of millions. But I experienced and witnessed so much in the past few days and there are so many thoughts and images running around in my brain that I felt like I needed to somehow express them. So here is my story.

On Monday and Tuesday we did not know what to do; our theme song could have been "Should I Stay Or Should I Go?". We live about half-way between Houston and Galveston, so we were concerned with the weather forecasts. We went back and forth, but on Tuesday night decided (along with my parents) that we should go. We have family in Dallas who wanted to see us anyway, so we decided to load up and leave on Wednesday. The sooner the better, we thought. So we packed, we prepared our homes, we brought along our treasures and tried to secure the rest. We couldn't board up our windows because plywood was already sold out. Grocery stores were quickly selling out of water, batteries, the hurricane essentials. There was a sort of public frenzy - probably a combination of media hype and Katrina still fresh on our minds. Fortunately we did have the foresight to fill our cars up with gas on Tuesday night. We knew the traffic would be bad getting out of town, but what else could we do? By the time we left it was a Category 4 storm headed straight at Galveston. We had to leave. We had no idea what we were about to go through.

My parents left their house at about 1:00 p.m. Wednesday afternoon; we were not able to leave until a couple of hours later. It was 103 degrees outside when we left home. We kept in touch as best as we could by cell phone - but the circuits were so busy that many times we were unable to connect. Mom and Dad ran into heavy traffic, but assured us that once we got past The Woodlands we'd be OK. The traffic was literally bumper-to-bumper from the minute we pulled out of our League City neighborhood with our 2 kids, our 2 dogs, and our van packed to the gills with all that we could get in there. And thus began the creep northward. From home to Centerville we averaged about 5-10 mph. I have never seen so many people and cars trying to go the same direction. Cars were overheating; people were running out of gas; some people pushed their cars along in the traffic to save what gas they had. The gas stations ran out of gas. They ran out of food. The restrooms were disgusting. No stores or restaurants were open. Large groups of people would pull over to the shoulder together and sleep in/on their cars. Ambulances frequently passed us on the shoulder; I assume they were transporting hospital patients to safer ground. At midnight we were just getting to the Woodlands, and there was no relief in sight. Rita was now a Category 5 - the 3rd strongest storm in recorded history. I finally got thru to Mom on her cell phone and they were already at our Dallas destination. Thinking we were not far behind, Mom asked how close we were - when I told her we were only at The Woodlands she couldn't believe it. It had taken us 9 hours to get only to the other side of Houston, and they were already there! What a difference leaving a couple of hours later made! Friends of ours that left after we did took 12 hours to get that far - they ended up turning around and going back home for fear of running out of gas and being stranded. I wish we had done the same, but the reports on the radio told of a "mammoth storm" headed straight at us! I began to worry we would ride out the storm in our van on I-45. My husband got tired (imagine that!) so I took over the driving for a while and let him sleep - neither of us wanted to stop moving - but I could only drive for about an hour before my eyes wouldn't stay focused and I had to pull over. That was at Centerville. After a short rest in the van, my husband took back over and we forged on, still seeing so many people by the side of the road either out of gas or sleeping, so many ambulances, so many tail lights ahead of us! We kept hearing on the radio that they were going to open the southbound lanes of I-45 to head north as well, but we never saw it. We drove (inched along) all night. At dawn on Thursday we were in Buffalo; we again had to pull over to a gas station parking lot (no gas there) and sleep for about 45 minutes. Finally at Ennis we decided we HAD to get off of 45 so we cut over to 35 and got into Dallas that way. We arrived at our final destination at 10:00 Thursday morning - a 19 hour drive. We were worn out, hungry, grungy - hadn't eaten anything decent or gotten any real sleep in over 24 hours - hadn't brushed our teeth, showered.....you get the picture. But we made it. And I have to say that I have THE BEST kids in the world - never a complaint, never a problem - they either played with their Gameboys or watched a movie or slept - real troopers! The dogs were good, too - they slept a lot - but I think that was the Benadryl I gave them......the puppy (6 months old) pooped in van at about Waxahatchie - at that point we were up to 55 mph so I just tossed it out the window. We were physically and emotionally exhausted.

Of course, the "mammoth storm" did NOT come to our homes - it instead weakened and went inland well northeast of where we live. My mother-in-law lives in Orange and we know she evacuated but we don't know where she is or if she has a home to come back to. Our hearts are with all the residents of the Beaumont/Port Arthur area. We decided as soon as we knew it was safe, we were headed home to check on our own houses. Perhaps we could beat the crowds back into town.....

Other people thought that, too; it still took us 8 hours to get home. That is much better than the 19 hours it took to get there, but still a long day - a long hot day with no place to stop for gas, food, drinks, restrooms; we had brought some things to snack on and drink in the car and we had water for the dogs; we found one rest stop that had a rather clean bathroom (thank goodness!); my son had to tinkle by the side of the road at one point. But we made it home. We have power and phones and water, but our cable is still out. We haven't had mail or newspaper delivery since last Wednesday. Now the clean-up begins - mainly we have limbs and branches in the yard to pick up, and from looking at the size of some of them I think we are lucky they didn't break out the front windows of the house (they were certainly slamming into them). We found a couple of shingles, too - not sure if they are from our roof or if they blew over from someone else's. There are ants everywhere - outside and inside. But we are VERY lucky. We have limited food in the house - we stocked up on non-perishables and water before the storm, but we have no bread or milk or meat - no stores are open. It is like a ghost town around here. I guess we'll be eating a lot of canned ravioli and ramen noodles for a few days. The kids don't go back to school until Thursday. We don't know when my husband will need to be back at work (probably Monday). We have learned a lot of lessons for "next time" - Rita Lessons as the press is calling them. For one thing we will buy plywood as soon as it becomes available next week and have it pre-cut and ready. We now have a plan for packing/protecting our things. We know that if we ever have to evacuate again we will leave earlier and not try to go as far. I don't like to ever say "never", but at this point I am saying "never again" - it'll have to be pretty darn bad for us to evacuate again. Next time this family will most likely hunker down and ride it out.....

1 comment:

Rebecca Lynn said...

Im so glad your family is all alright. My friend Kathy was on the highway for 11 hours Wednesday night and didnt get out of Houston, so she ended up giving up and going home. Hope everything works out with your brother in law's mother!