June 1 is a date any Gulf Coast resident marks — it is always the official beginning of hurricane Season. We also know the date of November 30, the official end of the season. But –as with this year — we have had years with hurricanes that form earlier than June 1. And as with Hurricane Rita, we know that hurricanes can come right at the end of the season even though everyone pretty much breathes easier after October 1.
Growing up on the Gulf Coast means, therefore, that any sensible person has the following: a laminated hurricane chart (paper ones are often provided free by area newspapers, but laminated ones are easily available), water, food, batteries, essential medicines and items, and an evacuation plan. An additional item to include: a generator, which in turn means you’ll need some gasoline. Oh, and don’t forget money, as in cash. We know from experience that if power goes out and cell phone towers are disabled, ATM systems also go out. That means you need cash before you evacuate.
For the last 3 days, we’ve been flooded with reminders about the season, about having our plans ready, and about evacuating.
My plan is simple: I’m leaving the country. For almost 3 months. Starting Tuesday June 12, cwareintheworld will be out in the world beyond Louisiana and Texas.
But until then, I think about the fact that our natural disaster here, the hurricane, has prepared us for life. I have grown up in various places on the Gulf Coast (or, as I’m now seeing some places refer to it, the South Coast) and as with so many others I remember hurricanes — the big ones, even the ones that didn’t hit but were supposed to — by names. Hurricane Audrey is the first I remember — 1957, the summer we moved to Egan. We weren’t there for it, but returned shortly afterwards. I have specific memories: the bookcase in the back room was overturned (my doll got broken), the ceiling had exploded with water, the dog house had been ripped off the concrete and thrown a few houses away, and one of the movie theatres in Crowley (the Chief) was gone. The next one I remember was, I think, Hurricane Carla, which hit on 10 September 1961. That’s the one that we sat through. We moved from our company house to Dad’s office, a metal building on a slab. There was one room with no windows, and we spent a lot of time in it. What do I remember? The sound of the wind, the way the metal building breathed in and out, and the lull when the eye passed over us. A few years later, in September 1971, I was in a dorm room when we were told to moved into the hall with our mattresses. That was Hurricane Edith. While I lived in Baton Rouge in 1973 and 1974, I carefully followed the movements of Hurricane Carmen in September 1974. .
By the time I lived in Texas for a few years, the only named hurricanes I tracked were
After I returned to Louisiana to teach in August 1981, I was right back in action alley. Hurricane Danny in 1985 didn’t come near us. Hurricane Juan in late October 1985 left us lots of rain. In June 1986, Bonnie came in near us (near Sabine Pass, in Texas) and we got some rain. Florence (September 1988) hit east of us. The first category 5 hurricane to make landfall since 1969 hit in September 1988 — Gilbert caused lots of rains and some coastal flooding. In August 1992, Andrew slammed through Florida and then plowed through southern Louisiana, mostly missing us in Lake Charles. Opal (1995), Josephine (1996), and Danny (1997) really didn’t come near us. Frances (1998) left lots of rain and. Georges (1998 also) avoided us.
But in October 2002, Hurricane Lili was predicted to be a level 5 and to come right over us in Lake Charles. That’s the first time I left — I packed my car, my pets, and what I thought I couldn’t live without, and headed away. Lili turned east and made landfall in Vermilion Bay as a Category 2.
Then came the year of the Twisted Sisters, as I call them: Hurricanes Katrina (29 August 2005) and Rita (September 17-24, 2005). Katrina devastated the New Orleans area and Mississippi. I remember thinking it was safe from major damage — until the levee broke. Our university took in a few students, opened parts of campus as a triage center, and the area absorbed lots of people fleeing the storm. Soon it was our turn to evacuate, and we did. I once more packed my car with what I described as necessary to life, and hit the road for central Texas — 13 1/2 hours for a 6 hour trip. I watched everything unfold on CNN, unable to sleep much. When I returned to Louisiana, I wasn’t allowed to exit Interstate 10 for Lake Charles — those exits were barricaded with Army tanks and police cars. I stayed at Dad’s in Egan, and eventually could return to “look and leave.” Once power was restored, I returned to my house. There was roof damage and had been some leaking, but the house was basically okay, unlike other homes on my street that had trees through the roof or in the yard. The university was sort of up and running, basically on the internet, and in available classrooms. My graduate class met for the rest of that semester in a local coffeeshop.
In 2008, we evacuated on August 31 for Gustav, which was a strong Category 2 when it made landfall. But a couple of weeks later Ike did much more damage to our area. We were encouraged (but not required) to evacuate. I did. I went to Dad’s; I made him buy a generator. That came in handy when Ike knocked our power out for a few days. With it, we could run a window unit in one room, keep the refrigerator going, and I could even watch tv and use my laptop. Lake Charles had more flood damage for Ike than it did for Rita. While my house in LC was fine, my beach house near Galveston wasn’t. I had nothing left except a few pilings that had been twisted and ripped like green branches — and a broken slab. That’s it. And one Christmas ornament — a blue Christmas angel, which survived with one chipped wing. I still have that survivor.
So yes, I pay attention to hurricanes. I have my gear ready. I have a plan. Actually, I have several plans. Yes, I leave for much of the summer; before I do, I make my sister promise to get my pets if there’s a threat. I pack art in waterproof storage bags. I put valuables in a safety deposit box. By the time I return (this year on September 10) we aren’t through with the season yet. In fact, most of the hurricanes of late that have affected us have actually hit in September.
But the most important lessons I’ve learned: houses are just houses. As long as your family and friends are safe, that’s the main thing. I want my pets too. I will pack my laptop and desktop, my camera, and as many photographs as I can cram in the Mini. I throw some clothes together — there’s always a Walmart somewhere. I put food in the car too (peanut butter, especially) and water, because I don’t know how long I’ll be ON the road IN the car.
Over the years I’ve decided that I’d stay put for a Category 1 or 2. I’m not sure about a 3. But 4 or 5? I’m out of here, believe me. I have a small generator ready, one that I can handle. I will have food and water ready, along with batteries and a radio and a battery-powered television to follow the weather.
So as we head into the 2012 hurricane season, I wonder what’s ahead. I think I’ll get my hurricane chart today while I’m out running around.