God I hate being prescient.
At last report, we were setting up our new condo in Jackson, Mississippi, as a nice place to go to for a long weekend and, if the need ever did arise, a place to go to if we had to leave New Orleans to escape a hurricane. On that Tuesday, I wrote glibly about how ironic it would be if we had to use the new place almost immediately, as there was this tropical depression in the Atlantic that, if it strengthened, would be called Katrina.
What a shock, what a coincidence, what unbelievable timing. At the end of the week I previously posted from, the basic furniture had been delivered and set up, and we set out for home feeling that even in the worst case scenario we were prepared with at least the basics. We drove home on Friday, Sept. 26, got the dog out of prison (the kennel), went home, and turned on the TV news. Whaddayaknow. Worst case scenario.
So we looked at each other and decided, we’re not unpacking. Launder the dirty clothes, pack them right back in the suitcases, chuck whatever comes to hand into the van and GET OUT.
We did, the next day, Saturday, even though Mayor Ray Nagin had been only hinting at calling for a voluntary evacuation, to say nothing of the mandatory evacuation he put in place on Sunday. Nagin in this crisis seems to have become widely thought of as the anti-Giuliani, the guy who did not take charge in the crisis the way Rudi did. I think this is a pity, and misguided, as I think he is a better mayor of New Orleans than most I have seen. (And I’ve seen quite a few, and studied about more.) And the two disasters are not comparable. While intending no disrespect, two big buildings falling down in a sharply defined area is not the same as flood waters spreading everywhere you can see. As terrible as they were, and for all the disruption they caused, the 9/11 attacks did not take out ALL of Manhattan, to say nothing of all the boroughs around it.
Anyway, we left. What had been a pleasant three hour drive the day before took a grueling six hours, as so many people (like us) said, screw this, we’re not waiting for the official word. We’re going.
What continues to stagger me is that if Katrina had come one day earlier, or if we had tried to return to New Orleans one day later, it wouldn’t have worked. On Saturday afternoon the contraflow was established, which converted all highway lanes from the threatened area into outgoing lanes, allowing no incoming traffic. If the timing had been one day off, we would have been turned back. One of the most painful thoughts is that in that case our beloved dog Bluebell would have been either left in the kennel to starve or, the most one could hope for, turned loose by the kennel staff to take her best chance surviving in the streets, and most likely never found again. It’s heartbreaking to see TV coverage of people desperately searching the pet rescue sites for their animals. In so many cases they’ve lost everything and finding their pet is the only hope of comfort they have left.
But we got here. We’re in Jackson, safe and sound, with a rather confused dog. I’m sure she’s trying to figure out what’s going on, but then, dogs spend their entire lives trying to figure out what’s going on, without success. It’s the price of living with humans.
We’re not sure when we’ll be able to refill the gas tank in the car. For a time, gas was reserved for service vehicles, and even if that’s been rescinded, deliveries have been spotty. Power was off for a few days, but then came back, so we’re starting to try and build some sort of simulation of a normal life. I’m painfully aware of how much better off I am than so many from New Orleans. I know keenly that I’m safe and dry not only because we had the foresight to plan for an evacuation (if barely in time) but because we had the means. I know there are thousands who would have made the same plans and gotten out when we did if they’d had the means, a car and the money to buy gas and get a hotel room whenever you get to wherever. But they didn’t. And it looks like thousands of them died because of that.
Well, that’s a subject for discussion in the category of political blame, and I think we’ll get to that a bit later.