Submitted March 13, 2009

Hurricane Rita Evacuation Urban Survival Story

August 31, 2005

I was working in a pawnshop in Aransass Pass Texas, about 20 miles North of Corpus Christi, Texas. Two days earlier my wife and I watched the destruction of New Orleans on National Television, the news coverage was continuing around the clock as the drama unfolded.

Gasoline had shot up from .56 to .99 a gallon overnight and of course I had to fill up that morning to get to my menial low paying job. Late that afternoon a rich looking couple driving a huge brand new pick up truck, came into the pawnshop. They spoke very loudly about how their family members in New Orleans did not have electricity and were relying on them for help. How they communicated, I did not know. The pawn shop owner had two used generators and this couple was desperate to buy them, even hundreds of miles away from Louisiana, generators had become scarce. The couple bought both of them, at an extra high price, and the owner asked how they were going to get them to New Orleans for their family members to use. Well said the man, we can't drive up there because the roads are closed, so we are going to take these to the UPS office and have them shipped to New Orleans, no matter what it costs. No one revealed to this man the flaw in his thinking. My wife and I had a good laugh when I got home that day.

September 20, 2005

We were very concerned about Rita's progress that night, after Katrina everyone was in near panic.

September 21, 2005

They called the evacuation that morning, we had no money and our car was hardly running, there was no way it would make it inland several hundred miles, even if we had money for gas. The storm looked like it was going to make a direct hit where we lived in Rockport, Texas 30 miles North of Corpus, and right on the coast. Our financial situation was dire, my Wife had lost her job, and after an altercation with my manager at the pawnshop, I had quit mine. We were awaiting an inheritance to come through, but it had not happened yet. The job prospects in the small tourist town, in the off season, were grim. I thought about just sitting tight, but the lives of my Wife and kids prompted me into action. With reluctance and a feeling of failure as a man, I called my Father for help.

Jobs, money and status were the code that my father lived by, even though he had never held a low wage job in his life. He agreed to help, and reservations at a hotel in Wimberly Texas were made, before the golden horde set out from Houston. We would leave in the morning in my father's truck, heading roughly two hundred miles inland. Wimberly is located between Austin and San Antonio Texas. I spent the afternoon of that day boarding up my Father's house in the nearly 115 degree heat and humidity. After that was accomplished my Wife and I needed to pick up a few things in town including a prescription.

It was completely surreal in Rockport late that afternoon. The streets were all but abandoned, trash fluttered in the wind on the empty sidewalks, most business were already closed. The schools had closed at noon that day, and the children sent home. Even the sky had a peculiar orange brown cloud cover that was unnerving. A hand painted cardboard sign adorned the windows at Super Wal-Mart stating that the store would be closing at 6pm, less than an hour away. The parking lot contained a handful of RVs and pick-ups with travel trailers, all of them were loading up canned goods, bottled water, propane, charcoal, flashlights, batteries and ammunition. We had about at the local bank, but we also had a 0 overdraft privilege, the decision was made to cash it out. The ATM machines had been limited to dispensing only 100 at a time for only 3 transactions, to keep the machines from running out of cash. The ATMs were also adorned with crudely made cardboard signs. We took our 100 out 3 times, with an overdraft charge each time, that we would owe the bank at a later date. Inside Wal-mart it looked as if the hurricane had already struck, the store was a mess, and the employees had a haggard appearance. We picked up the prescription, there were no more batteries to be had, but I needed a box of .45 ACPs.

People had payed attention to the mayhem that followed hurricane Katrina, this was evident at the ammunition counter. They were out of shotgun shells, all common rifle rounds were gone, the same held true for common pistol rounds. All they had were oddball cartridges, .357 SIG, .45 G.A.P. .17 Remington, .300 Weatherby Magnum ETC. Even the .22 LR were gone. There would be no .45 ACPs for me, we headed home. We passed several gas stations, again with crude signs, stating they had only premium fuel. We got home to get ourselves and our kids ready to evacuate in the morning. The TV news reported that the hurricane was gaining strength, they still had no idea where it would make landfall, and residents of Houston were encouraged to evacuate now in a few hours it would be mandatory. I felt it was imperative for the members of my family to be equipped with proper footwear, in case there was trouble and we wound up walking. My 11 year old fashion aware daughter proved to be a problem, all she had was girly shoes that were otherwise useless. We scrambled to find her some walking shoes, deep in the closet we found a pair. Also in the closet we located a forgotten partial box of ..45ACPs, at least my magazines would all be loaded. I vowed to never be caught without essentials like walking shoes and ammo again.

We packed light, I backed up my family photos and writings onto a CD-Rom and packed it, we included socks and a change of clothes for everyone, all of our important paperwork and identification and full canteens. Into my backpack went half of our cash, one 1911 Colt .45 Automatic with 5 magazines on a gun belt, one large Ontario Razor sharp hunting knife, one Swiss Champ, my medications including a good supply of aspirin, salt tablets and Dramamine. One compass, a military poncho, foot powder, boonie hats and a copy of Conan the Adventurer By Robert E. Howard. Everyone also had high energy snacks and a poncho. As we went to bed that night the TV reported more bad news.

September, 22 2005

This would be the day that I would learn how truly fragile our complex modern society is, I would also learn that by avoiding groupthink and with a little forward planning most hazards could be easily bypassed.

After disconnecting the water, electricity and gas to our house my Dad arrived and we loaded up. As I got into the truck my Father handed me a Texas Roads map book and said, I have picked out our own evacuation route. He had traveled the roads of Texas his entire life and knew every back road there was. The penciled in evacuation route would prove to be our saving grace. Many lives were lost that day because people and bureaucrats could not or would not read a simple road map; instead they relied on digital gimmickry and an unswerving belief that the interstate highway system was the only roadway available to them.

Urgency bordering on panic was wafting on the air, you could feel the tension, and see the worry on other motorists faces. We headed out on the first of many Farm to Market or FM roads crisscrossing the state. Traffic on these back roads was still heavier than I had ever seen it. Towns we went through appeared deserted until you reached gas stations that were near riot conditions many were out of gas. Luckily my father had filled up the previous night, if he hadn't we may have very well been stranded in the choking gasping heat that day. We switched back and forth onto differing FM roads to avoid more and more traffic, every town was congested, we had long waits at every stop light and four way crossing. A three hour trip had turned to six hours and counting, we stopped at small hamburger joint for lunch, it was jam packed, as we ordered we overheard other folks talking. Rumors were flying about accidents, fires, turmoil and gridlock on Interstate 10, they still had no idea where Rita was headed. We got our order and headed back out eating in the truck, the little town was swamped with cars and people, one person was driving on the sidewalk, there were no police in sight.

Between towns on the FM roads it was easy going, but as you neared any community there was chaos, as the afternoon progressed, many a crude sign could be seen proclaiming no more gas, no more food, this was repeated again and again. We were coming up on Seguin Texas when traffic came to a halt, we were about to cross over I-10 the main evacuation route out of Houston. Out of the truck window along the horizon I could make out several columns of black smoke. It took over an hour to travel the two miles to the overpass and then I saw I-10. All the lanes had been re-routed to head west only, It was like a scene from a movie, as far as I could see there were lines of cars, both to the east and the west pointed in a single direction. There was no end, none of them was moving, more columns of smoke could be seen in the distance what caused them I did not know.

Heat rippled off the metal and in automobile exhaust, the evacuees could not turn off their engines, if they did there would be no air conditioning and heat prostration would quickly find them, especially the old and the very young. Along the roads sides people could be seen walking, I guess they had abandoned their vehicles in search of a respite from the heat. A fuel truck was also traveling on the road side, it was not stopping for anyone, and a few police cruisers traveled the road sides as well, the only vehicles in motion along that nightmarish interstate.

Late in the afternoon we arrived in Wimberly and checked into the Motel, which was completely booked and we were the last people with a reservation to arrive. My father was staying with a friend in Wimberly and he left us his truck. We headed to the grocery store to lay in our supplies it was crowded but not overrun yet. We bought three days of food for a family of four and headed back to the hotel. The storms heading was still uncertain, but at last we enjoyed some peace and laughter. Later that night we decided to run back into town and get some ice cream, there was chaos in Wimberly this time. The grocery store we had been at just hours earlier was stripped bare. They had cleaning supplies and some make-up but that was about it, there was no more food of any kind to be had, no drinks, no water and no toilet paper . The streets were packed stalled cars littered the roadways and every gas station was out of fuel. We went back to the hotel, grateful that we had bought supplies earlier. We watched the TV and heard horror stories of what was going on, events that we had witnessed throughout the day. The night passed without incident.

September, 23 2005

We spent the day relaxing at the hotel late in the afternoon Hurricane Rita made her turn to the North making the previous two days an exercise in futility. She struck in the early morning hours on September, 24 between the Texas/Louisiana border, while we were safely asleep at the hotel. We went home as the storm moved inland.

Lessons Learned-

I believe that after Katrina officials overreacted to Rita in ordering the evacuation of Houston, Many died needlessly. This is a danger we still face today, not just the storms but the hysteria surrounding them.

After our experience we gave up on the coast and moved to Oklahoma, we live a hundred miles from any major city and we keep stores of food, ammo, water and medical supplies on hand in case we need them in a hurry. Never again will we be caught with our pants down.

Dan

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