Should I stay or should I go? Every year since Katrina, we have this same discussion. Right up to and through Katrina, I acted a fool and never even considered an evacuation. Being a bit of a dramatic weather freak, I would just get giddy as storms approached. Well, the levee failures of 2005 showed us all what happens when a force of nature meets up with the ineptitude of man. New Orleans was nearly destroyed by government (federal and regional) and corporate (oil, gas, and shipping) greed, carelessness, and indifference. And our city is still at risk—serious risk.
But, will we want to contra-flow with our six pets in a 1994 Lincoln with no A/C and 234,500 miles on the engine? No. Did we learn from Katrina? Yes. So, we were so prepared when Hurricane Gustav threatened us. We had a van that we purchased with the understanding that we could not live in New Orleans without an evacuation clunker. We had AAA, were fully gassed up, our mechanic had given it the once-over; every pet (four) had a carrier and was micro-chipped; battery-operated fans packed, ice chest filled … we were ready. We even printed out an evacuation “rules of the road” for any friends who might need a ride out of town with us (no takers—too many rules). We thought we were golden with our planning, but all it took was a hairline crack in the radiator that went berserk from contra-flow and then the steep hills of northern Alabama. Of course, New Orleans was blessed with no fallout from Gustav—and we still added $1000.00 to our personal debt.
I suspect that we’re not the only ones out there who spent too much money and time off from work trying to avoid Gustav. And I know we have all now been lured into a comfort zone after 11 years of relatively calm summers. Our city’s remarkable comeback has repaired and replaced much of the devastation. The oily blackish water lines that circled and weaved throughout our city lie faded under fresh coats of paint. But they were a reminder for years of just how quickly lives and dreams can drown.
Even those of us who lived here during Katrina and learned firsthand that those worst-case scenarios do come true, tend to look about and think, “Well, my current neighborhood only took six inches of water or none at all.” So we still need to realize that every storm is different. What if that barge that broke through the levee during Katrina, landing on a school bus, had hit on the Upper Ninth Ward side? What if Katrina had maintained her original path and pushed, with all her might, the Mississippi River up and over—there would have been no dry high ground, no “Sliver by the River”, and the soup bowl effect would have taken out our business district and the French Quarter, and our rebound in these areas would have been quite different. I survived my foolish “ridin’ out the storm” relatively dry. But next time …?
So let’s review the options available to those who choose to evacuate. As we know, many people died during Katrina because they could not, would not, leave without their pets. Now there are measures in place for our beloved critters.
The City of New Orleans has a website for pet safety and evacuation—just Google NOLA READY. Go to it today, read it and take the advice. The city will assist those without cars to get them and their pets out of harm’s way. But one needs to pre-read, pre-plan.
For both you and your pets, have all medical records, prescriptions, insurance papers, IDs, bank and credit stuff, addresses, and phone numbers of family and such (log or memorize all important phone numbers—don’t rely upon your cell as your only phone number directory). Follow the checklist provided by NOLA READY. Also, if your pets are not micro-chipped, take care of that today. When we finally got out of the city six days after Katrina, we had already sewn money into our clothing, written all numbers and credit card info inside our tote bag with a Sharpie because we had to travel light, and on Day 2 of flooding, we weren’t sure if water or looters would visit us. We came out fine—but we had our stuff ready and secured so when our escape came, we jumped. Get your ducks in a row and prepare not to swim!
If evacuating, remember to “lock it down” before leaving. Secure all things that might become airborne: lawn chairs, pots, bikes, pink flamingoes (those dear little plastic birds can fly under hurricane conditions). Definitely secure trash and recycle bins in a garage, or bungee-cord them to a tree or fence. Duct tape the lids down (you don’t want coffee grinds, crawfish shells and little Johnny’s dirty diapers strewn across the neighborhood). Oh, and this is big—empty that refrigerator or take all frozen food, put it in a plastic bag, and leave it in the freezer. Hope for the best, and if necessary, you can at least remove the thawed mess quickly without a hazmat suit (same goes for refrigerated items). Want an idea of how long, if at all, your power failed your freezer? Freeze an eight-ounce plastic cup of water; put a penny on top and you’ll have a bit of a gauge upon return as to how much defrosting went on. Err on the side of caution before assuming the food is safe. Also, duct tape the freezer and refrigerator doors shut tight.
If you’re staying put, on the other hand, be sure to plan for power outages and have your flashlights, battery-operated fans, and instead of candles (I nearly burned the house down during Katrina), load up on solar-powered yard/walkway lights. They deliver a lot of light inside and can be recharged outside during the day (assuming you and your yard did not blow away). We found some great ones at Home Depot and Big Lots. We always fill up plenty of water bottles for drinking and buckets for flushing toilets. Items to have on hand? Bleach, heavy duty garbage bags, paper towels, hand sanitizer, zip lock baggies, a first aid kit, baby wipes (assume you may not have bathwater)—think “camping”. Be sure to stock up on non-perishable food and drinks (I prefer drinking white wine at room temp over a warm beer!).
Let us all remember Katrina and take a lesson from her.