Hurricane season and evacuations mean plan ahead

6 Jun

Hurricane evacuations are an inevitable fact of life in New Orleans.  That’s just part of life.  It’s expensive too-not only is there the expense of traveling out of town, but then there is accommodations while you are gone, and loss of pay from your job.  After Katrina, we all take evacuations much more seriously too, as we realize that the rule of packing for three days isn’t always applicable, and with the failure of a single levee, we could be looking at nothing left at home.  Past hurricane flooding isn’t a good guide either, look at how many places flooded with Katrina that had no history of flooding with Camille or Betsy.  Each storm is a separate experience.  Each storm has its own unique path as well.

My last evacuation was for Gustav.  Gustav was coming to town for Labor Day weekend, which I was planning on spending in Mississippi with some friends, just a mile or so off of the coast there.  I didn’t change my plans, other than to call and see if bringing the cats was okay.  (It was-they are like family!)  A lot of people thought I was nuts, but to me my plan had all the sense in the world.  I was leaving on Friday, as soon as I got off of work.  I’d load my zoo up, and then had a 3-4 hr drive ahead of me, depending on traffic.  Originally, the plan had me returning home on Sunday, but the current weather reports had it highly likely that an evacuation would be ordered for Saturday evening or sometime on Sunday.  I did take  more things with me in the van besides what I normally would-the photos off of my walls, camping gear, and some important items-so the van was FULL, especially adding the cats and their paraphernalia.  My cats don’t travel often, Smokey never had before, and Cali had for Katrina.  It turns out that bold Smokey (at home) turns into a huge shy chicken away from home or around strangers, but is still Mr. Destructo if he can get free run of the house.  I resorted to keeping him in a large crate to prevent him from wearing out our welcome with our friends.

Sissy and Red Dog are both seasoned travelers.  They have it down to an art, and Red Dog adores a road trip.  Sissy…well, we use a crate so she has a safe retreat and stays out of trouble in the van.  In addition, the two dogs are never allowed contact with each other, which is another long story.  Both normally accompany us on camping trips and shorter trips, so its a familiar routine.

Even though everyone thought I was crazy to leave for the Mississippi coast, it made sense to me.  In New Orleans, we are bottle-necked with limited routes out of town, and then the bridges make it more complicated.  Surrounded by water, unless you are leaving with a boat, it is not so easy to get out of town fast, and with thousands leaving, the roads are beyond congested.  I was removing myself from that congestion long before the evacuation was ordered.  Granted, I was still going to be on the coast, but in the event that the storm was headed in that direction, I could then decide whether to leave or stay, and had many options on the route I used to leave the coastal region and where I headed from there.  I had my camping gear for temporary housing, and as long as I avoided the storm’s path, we could stay in the tent in a campground.

It was all about being prepared for the emergency ahead.  As it turned out, I didn’t need to leave, and we had a relatively mild experience in Mississippi at my location.  Not much rain, not much wind, and only high tides to flood low lying areas.  I was prepared with a full tank of gas-I had gassed up on Friday when I was arriving to make sure that I had the fuel.  I had the camping gear, food, water, animal food, and I was ready to go if I needed to.

Storm season has arrived, and that means we need to finalize our preparations for evacuation to avoid last minute insanity.  Each storm may be individual, and traffic when caught in a contra flow pattern may send you off in a less-than-desirable direction, so we need to have multiple options in place.  In addition, traffic can be slow moving, and businesses along the route may be overwhelmed with the evacuees buying food and fuel, as well as seeking lodging.  Be prepared to travel several hundred miles at least.  Never let your gas tank get low-top it off regularly.  Keep the oil changed and fluids checked, and mechanical repairs done as needed.  Your vehicle is your escape route, so it needs to be a priority.

Next, assemble a kit with snacks and food for the trip for everyone.  These need to be shelf stable foods.  Keep them in a small box or container in your cupboard, pre-packed for quick grab and go.  You should keep enough in the box to satisfy everyone for 24 hours.  This includes drinks, even if you plan on dropping them into a cooler with ice, keep them ready to go for potential evacuations.  If we are lucky enough that you never need them, they make great take-alongs for road trips in the fall, or a no-hurricane party.

For your pets, assemble another grab and go kit.  Include vaccination records with this kit, as well as snacks, travel dishes, and water.  Make sure you have crates for each pet, even if you don’t use them during the trip, you may need them at your temporary location.  Have collars, leashes, and id tags for all of them, including cats.  For cats, you will also want a harness in case you do need to leash them.  Practice a few times on taking everyone outside on leash, including the cats.  Knowing what to expect makes it easier for everyone, you and the pets.  If you have birds or other small pets, have a travel cage to use in the car, as well as figuring out what you will use at your temporary location if your normal cage won’t collapse small enough for evacuation.  Have their food ready too.

Next comes the people stuff.  Three days minimum, as well as a swim suit and a spare pair of shoes.  Try to include comfortable clothing for relaxing-we may as well get a bit of relaxation in on this expensive trip!  Each person should have a hygiene kit with shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrush, brush, comb, mouthwash, etc. as well as a towel and washcloth.  Pack medications, and putting in all that you have on hand is a good idea, illustrated by the problems people had after Katrina.  Add important papers, or copies of them, including vehicle information, vehicle insurance information, health insurance information, property, life, etc. insurance information, birth certificates, divorce/custody/marriage documents, drivers licenses, school ids, and diplomas/certificates for training and education, copies of utility bills.  Also include a dvd with digital copies of family photographs as well as your home, inside and out, taken this summer.  Make sure you include photos of all valuables, for insurance purposes.

If you have expensive jewelry, have a packing plan for that so you aren’t worrying about looters.  Also, do not leave firearms in your home unsecured so have a plan to secure these items prior to departure or how to take them along.

Look around your home.  If your first floor was to flood, what would be damaged?  Think of a way to quickly move items of irreplaceable nature to the highest possible location.  How would a looter gain entrance to your home?  Think of ways to quickly secure your home-many people have gone to hurricane shutters to solve this particular issue.

Get an atlas to keep with your evacuation materials.  They are immensely useful should you end up having to choose an alternative direction or route.  State maps for bordering states are also useful.  Have car chargers for your cell phone-it allows you to call and make reservations, ask about availability, and keep in touch with family and friends.

And of course, I advocate having camping gear along just in case a motel can’t be found or is going to choke the budget beyond repair.  As long as I am well out of the storm’s path, I know I will find a campground SOMEWHERE and it will be pet friendly.  Three days of camping will run about what a single night in a motel will run, and it saves my budget if I do have to leave the Gulf Coast.  Like most residents, however, I have a number of friends & relatives to invade as long as the direction of the storm is agreeable.

Multiple plans give me peace of mind.  I don’t have to worry about it, if it happens, I am prepared! I hope it doesn’t, and some years, I’m lucky.  Let’s just hope for some more luck this year, as the oil in the Gulf would add a lot more woes to a hurricane than we’ve ever faced before.

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