Submitted November 3, 2008

You can not believe how quickly normal things breakdown

Hi Tom,

My wife and I lost most of our things from Katrina and were evacuated for 4 to 9 months (I returned to New Orleans in Jan, She came back the end of June). While we did evacuate before the storm hit and we were not stranded in our flooded home, your points about urban survival have been on my mind a bit. In our scenario, the main thing you want to have on hand is few days food ready to place in your car in minutes without going to a local store that is overrun with panicked people and then you want maps and GPS of all near by states to you can evacuate in any direction if the route you have planned is gridlock with traffic. I used my Garmin GPS when I evacuated and had general food items on hand to pack quick. I also had a hand compass in my car that helped on back roads at night. In the case of Katrina, we went to bed Friday night with a tropical storm in the gulf that was predicted to head back towards Florida. By Saturday mid morning, it was a cat 1 heading to New Orleans, but expected to drift east to Mississippi or Alabama. Many storms have headed to New Orleans and then drift east or west over the next few days. In the case of Rita, they evacuated Houston and the storm actually hit hundreds of miles east. At any rate, by Saturday afternoon before Katrina, most roads out were gridlock, groceries stores were over run with mobs or empty and gas was almost gone. I filled up Saturday afternoon after a tense wait of 30 min at a local gas station where one police officer with a shot gun was directing cars into the pumps from all directions. Tempers were high, some folks in line had no cash, others had debit card failure and when the person in front of me left the pump, a guy with a large pickup just drove in over the curb from the main street to get in front of me. He hit a car and almost took out the pumps. You can not believe how quickly normal things breakdown and how tense it can be with disparate people all around. I then waited till Sunday 5 AM to leave because Saturday traffic was gridlock and a mess. By Sunday morning, the storm was cat 4 then 5 and still heading right to New Orleans. I then loaded up our critical personal files, food for 2 days, the cats and was off. By this time the traffic was down and the contra flow was going (both sides of all expressways going out). It still took 12 hours to get to Memphis (normally about 6-7) and I was lucky to have friends to stay with. The drive was orderly, but dangerous at times because groups of SUVs would drive across the median from northbound to southbound sides trying to go faster. There were close calls when these folks came in to traffic. Some convoys of SUVs also went high speed on the shoulder and grass and this was a danger for those stopping for meals and to relive themselves. We were not allowed to exit the freeway until near Jackson and that took about 7 hours. At the same time, many families traveling in convoys pulled over to the side or in the median and set up large picnics. If I had no place to stay, things could have been tough. Many stayed in cars, camped or just kept going north. My wife was already out of town for the birth of our grandson, she joined me in Memphis by Wednesday after the storm and then when we realized it would be a long evacuation, we headed to Michigan where our family is located. I came back to work in New Orleans in January, lived in a FEMA trailer in my university's parking lot and then my wife came down in June after I found a place to rent close to the city. Many of the items I purchased from your site replaced lost camping items. I purchase some things to get ready for the next evacuation (MREs). We have no intention of staying for the next storm and our survival items relate to evacuating. When the storm hit early Monday, I was in Memphis having a late breakfast.

So, I see the urban evacuation survival supplies to be in the following categories:

1. Navigation

You need maps, GPS and compass to make sure you can get out even if the route changes many times. Also, gas is an issue. I went 7 hours on one tank, still had reserve, but I drive a Honda. Many, many folks ran out of gas, abandoned their vehicle and had to hitch rides. I now also have a jump starter, air pump, power supply combo pack for traveling in case I need a jump or need some air and power.

2. Communication

You need to have a good weather radio. I have a very good Marine hand held from Standard Horizon that gets Marine, FRS, AM, FM, and weather bands. My cheep weather only radio was unreliable due to the poor reception. You need a cell phone and car charger for the long drive. I also have a Brunton solar port as backup charger for any of my stuff. I mostly use this on kayak and camping trips, but could be a big help if broke down on the road.

3. Food and Water

The idea that you might be on the road for 6-12 or more hours without opportunity to leave the expressway means you must have food that is more than snacks. I did OK, but next time will have MRE's and other snacks. I will also carry more water. Something that goes along with this might be some way to go to the bathroom on the road. I was OK for 7 hours, but probably was getting dehydrated. Many just stopped along the freeway and dropped them. Others had family members set up blankets for privacy. A portable urinal might work OK.

4. Shelter

I do not know what I would have done without saying with friends. There were shelters set up, but also camping would have been OK once far enough from the storm. I would have brought camping gear and gone that route.

5. Pet items

Long drives with pets can be hard. I had two cats for 12 hours. It all worked out OK, but perhaps this is something to look into.

6. Other

I always have a small first aid kit in my car as well as a decent survival kit. This comes from growing up in rural Michigan with snow, etc. If all else failed, this would have been handy.

I have heard many stories form friends that stayed in New Orleans and had to be evacuated by helicopter. Some survived in the second story of their homes for 3-4 days. It is clear that this was not a smart thing to do and I recommend that you should not try to support folks that want to ride out the storm. There will always be some that are stuck, but most need to get out. This said, I am considering getting a survival kit for my lab in case folks are stranded there for a few days. I have seen a number of kits that fit this need. Also, it is more likely that in New Orleans, we will have extended power outages due to minor storms because the grid is a mess. So, we are gearing up for the case of not evacuating for a small tropical storm where the power is off for 3-6 days. We have MREs, camping stoves, other non perishable items for this as well as my Solar Port and batteries and many water containers. I am thinking about a small Honda generator. Large generators are a problem if services are down because gas pumps can not pump and natural gas will be shut off for next major storm.

I am also trying to get a job back up North. The worst ice or snow storm was nothing compared to these tropical storms.

Hope this is of use to you! I appreciate your site and the nice variety of items listed.

To see pics of our home salvage and other Katrina related things, see our web site in my personal signature below (go to the family and friends section and select an album).

Tom Wiese

A Note from Survival Authority, Tom Sciacca of CampingSurvival.com:

"You can not believe how quickly normal things breakdown and how tense it can be with desperate people all around." This is extremely important! Many people want to stay blind to the possibilities of the collapse of society. I'm not referring to the end of the world, but it happens often, every year even throughout our own country. Local societies collapse and people get desperate and some people prey on others. Survival skills and survival gear are important, but the ability to protect yourself and your family have to be at the top of the list too.

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