As Gustov hits the coast this morning, our prayers go out to those being affected by the storm – and there are lots of them. Around 2 million people evacuated over the last few days, and if news reports can be trusted, only 10,000 still remain in New Orleans (post-Katrina population is 223,000 (2006 census stats)). The preparation and execution have been superb this go around, and we all hope that the storm passes quickly and with little damage.
I’ve been through an evacuation, and let me tell you, it’s no picnic.
In September of 2004, Hurricane Ivan, a Category 5 storm, threatened the same region as Gustov does now. I was in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi (the same town that was devastated by Katrina a year later), and hurricane models forecasted a direct hit. So we made the decision to leave, and headed to the New Orleans airport.
New Orleans was under a recommended evacuation, so most traffic was headed out – I can’t tell you how spooky it is to drive toward a region that is being evacuated (on the plus side, traffic going our way was light). As we neared the airport, we began to hear rumors on the radio that the airport was about to shut down. Some flights had already been cancelled, and time became a big issue. The mayor was saying that a direct hit would be catastrophic and we heard a report that 10,000 body bags had been ordered.
Windows were covered with plywood and the town seemed dead. The hotel where we had planned to stay if we got stuck was boarded up and closed.
As I turned in the keys to our rental car, we heard that our flight out had been scrapped. Nevertheless, we headed to the airport – we figured if we couldn’t get out, at least we would have a good place to hunker down.
When we got there, you could feel the tension. No one was panicking, but everyone had a sense of urgency in their eyes. We waited our turn, although time was getting so short that some passengers began to crowd the counters. When we got there, we simply said, “Any plane to any city.” We got Dallas.
They closed the airport shortly after we took off.
One of our party never made it – the airport was closed and he drove back to Bay St. Louis where he helped put sand bags around a beautiful bed and breakfast called The Bay Town Inn. (That same inn was later destroyed by Katrina and her 32 feet of storm surge – the owner and several residents saved themselves by clinging to an old oak tree in the front yard).
So it’s no picnic to evacuate. Every one of those 2 million people must arrange to leave, find a place to stay, and figure out how to eat; all the while wondering if their homes will be there when they return.
Anyone who has lived through a hurricane will tell you how frightening they can be, and how destructive. Evacuation, even with all the uncertainties and inconveniences, is so much better. But it’s not easy.
As we speak, military members from the Coast Guard, National Guard, and other services are working around the clock to help our citizens as they have done countless times in our history.
To them and the residents of coastal Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, our prayers are with you, and we hope you are home again soon.