Running From Hurricane Rita
Hurricane Rita was on her way to our area. I have lived on the Gulf Coast for 56 years. Have been through many Hurricanes, but never have I had to evacuate til Rita. They said it would be very bad with flooding expected. We walked through our homes one last time, not knowing if we would have homes to come back to. We decided that we should all leave together. We being myself, my sons, their significant others, grandkids, some family friends, cats and dogs. We loaded up 4 vehicles with our worldly goods and started out on a trip that should have took 2 hours but instead turned into an 18 hour nightmare.
We left our homes at 5:30 on Sept. 20th, 2005. The first 5 miles were fine, then reality set in when we saw the miles long line of cars waiting to cross a 2 lane bridge. It was stop and go, stop and go for hours. As time wore on, frustration set in. People became angry. Many trying to pass to get ahead, but there was really no getting ahead. It was just one continuous line of cars with people inside from all walks of life. But we were all in the same situation at the same time. There were times when the cars just stopped from an hour. We would get out and talk to each other, talk to others. What else to do with nothing but time to kill.
We saw a couple fighting, they were pulled over in a parking lot. We were at a stand still and so the scene unfolded before us. It was two women. It was clear they were arguing. Finally the driver gets out, walks around to the passenger side and starts punching the other woman. Then you see her throw a purse on the ground, she goes to the back of the vehicle and starts throwing out luggage. She goes back to the passenger and drags her out, locks the door and shuts it. Gets in and gets back in line leaving the passenger standing there. We all just looked at one another and then the line moved a few blocks.
Our caravan of 4 vehicles stayed together, one after another. We were at a stand still for so long at one point, that when the line began to move, my son was in front of me and he didn't pull off as I expected him to. So I get out of the van and walked to his truck and he was sound asleep at the wheel. By now we had been on the road about 8 hours and only about halfway to our destination. I witnessed this scene many times with others asleep at the wheel. People drained, exhausted, sound asleep and others just pulling around them, not even blowing their horns, so as not to disturb them.
We found a place to stop for some much needed gas. This scene was like something out of a disaster movie. People everywhere, in line for gas, in the store. People going behind the building to relieve themselves. Unbelievable! There were men outside directing those in line for gas to the pumps. Some tried to break line but quickly changed their mind when several people started for them. The peace was kept, thank God, as they readily moved to the back of the blocks long lines. I know that the station ran out of gas sometime after we left, it was inevitable, to many cars, limited amount of gas. I can only imagine the scene then.To get back on the road to go a few car lengths at a time was, to say the least, aggravating. But the little break we had to get gas refreshed us a bit.
About 12 hours into the trip we pulled off the road into a huge parking lot. Many were there, walking their dogs, let their kids run for a while. Many just taking a breather from the stop and go traffic. My oldest son said ' lets just go back home, I can't take this anymore'. I tell them all ' we are not going back, we will push on and just take this an hour at a time. We cannot go back and put our lives in harms way'. So we continued on. By now the contra-flow had started and we were able to drive on the opposite side of the road toward our destination. Some thought this traffic was a joke, time to play. One car kept cutting in and then falling back, cutting in and falling back. They thought it was funny and it was really pissing people off. Finally they decided to cut in front of me, I cut them off, easy to do when you are moving 5 miles an hour. They dropped in behind me and decided to come around me on the shoulder to pass, there was a truck in front of me pulling a trailer, when he saw their intent he swung to the shoulder and cut them off. They weren't laughing now. Someone called the law and they came out of nowhere and stopped the car. I don't know what happened after that, I know I did not see them anymore.
Finally at 11:30 the next morning, Thursday, we pulled into my sisters place. She had a office building that was vacant and offered us the rooms there. I walked in the room, threw my pillow on the hard concrete floor, layed down and passed out almost instantly. I vaguely remember my kids saying they were going to get something to eat and go to Wal-mart for some fans. I woke to them coming back and an amazing story. Not one fast food place had any food left, they were closing or already had closed their doors. They went to Wal-mart and many of the shelves were empty, no water, no bread, no lunch meat, no snacks, no fans. The convenient stores were wiped out too. We were astounded. This again was like a disaster movie. We had all brought ice chests with food from our freezers and my sister had a little BBQ pit so we began cooking the meat that was brought. This went on almost around the clock, as there were 13 of us to feed and we didn't want the meat to go bad.
We kept and eye on the The Weather Channel. We were also waiting for my Mom to get there. It was taking to long, why wasn't she here yet? We get a call some time later from the police. My Mom's car broke down and then she had a break down. The heat, the exhaustion, the aggravation had took its toll on her. They called an ambulance and she refused to go, they checked her out and she finally calmed down. She and my Stepdad had their dogs and their birds with them and refused to go to a shelter. My brother and brother-in-law set out to get them. Easy to get to them but hours to get back.
So now we were all together, safe and sound. That night someone tried to steal gas from our vehicles. My sister was coming to check on us when she caught them. Of course they ran off. Desperate times call for desperate measures and believe me many, many people were desperate by now. No gas to be found. Many people stranded on the side of the road out of gas and patience, completely exhausted, mentally and physically. I totally understood. This was the scene we woke up to. My sisters place is on a main highway through Texas. People were laying on towels & blankets in the ditches, next to their cars, just trying to rest. Finally we saw gas trucks coming by to fill peoples tanks so they could get on their way. Because the Hurricane was headed for us, where we were now.
That day, Friday, the 23rd of Sept., we tried to make light of things. There was no leaving, we knew we had to hunker down and endure what was coming that night. We cooked and ate, we drank and danced, we laughed and played. We just enjoyed each others company. The rain started to come in and one by one the kids, as well as the adults, layed down and slept. All except my daughter-in-law and I. Self appointed sentinels, lol! We listened to the radio and then the lights went. We lit candles and plugged in the batteries so we could keep a connection with the outside world. We stayed up all night, trying to keep whatever radio station we could on, to get updates. The sounds outside were very scary, to say the least. We wouldn't even go check when the noises were loud. The building was of cinder blocks, so we were pretty safe. The others slept right through it all.
The next morning we stepped outside to sunshine, fallen trees, fences down. My sisters house had a huge pine tree through the roof, no living there for a while, a long while. We looked at each other and said ' load up!' We were on our way back home in less than an hour. It took us exactly 2 hours to return. We all had some damage, but nothing major. Thank God!! Nothing we couldn't deal with. It was a experience I do not want to deal with again. But I know we did the right thing and if we have to evacuate again, we will. We cannot protect our homes from Mother Natures fury, but we can take ourselves out of harms way. And sometimes, as in this case, Mother Nature says I'll show you, and we just have to deal with the situation where we are. I am grateful we were safe and our homes were there when we returned. But who knows what we will have to deal with when Hurricane season begins again come June the 1st. Wish us luck!!!