Thursday, August 12, 2010

When We Were Refugees: Episode I: The Storm Before the Calm

When The Weather Channel initially mentioned the development of Tropical Storm Rita in mid-September 2005, Mrs. Peter, who then was not even Mrs. Peter-to-be, said with ominous confidence, "This one's gonna hit us." I, in my infinite wisdom, scoffed and called her "Chicken Little." When TWC's forecasters predicted Rita's explosive growth into a monster Category 5 that appeared to be heading somewhere between Houston and Baton Rouge, I had to take a different tack. I remembered the several previous years; meteorologists' predictions were always inaccurate, and the storms never made landfall exactly where they said they would. I was not very worried at all.

During the next couple of days, the computer models narrowed the "cone of uncertainty" significantly; more than one of them had Rita making landfall due south of us or just to the southwest, which put our home dead in the cross hairs of the very worst Hurricane Rita had to offer. The parish issued a "mandatory" evacuation, which too many people reckoned meant "optional;" the soon-to-be-Mrs. Peter-to-be decided that we had to evacuate.

A long-time friend of hers had providentially rented a cabin for a week at Lakeview Lodge on Toledo Bend Reservoir in Many, a small town about 100 miles north of home, for an entirely unrelated matter; there was plenty of room for us and the dog and the guinea pig and the cats and the snake. We packed a suitcase apiece, then we loaded up the vehicles with all important documents and pictures, the snake and the guinea pig, then proceeded to round up as many of her eight or so cats as we could track down. We took two of her mother's vehicles, a minivan and a three-quarter ton Dodge van, because we didn't have room in her truck, and because my van was more expendable than her mother's.

We stopped in town at the gas station her friend managed at the time, which was closed to the public and reserved for official city use. We were able to tank up there; we got a drink and got on Highway 27, headed north. We should have waited another ten hours to leave.

Traffic was bumper-to-bumper all the way to maybe twenty miles south of Many; it was not fun. I had a van loaded with cats who were unaccustomed to traveling; they expressed their discomfort continuously the entire way. There was no stopping to get a bite to eat or to relieve ourselves (we did pull over once to allow Annabel to tee tee and drink some water--priorities, priorities); when we finally got to a gas station that wasn't closed, I was on the brink of despair. Nine hours had passed; we weren't even there yet.

The last leg of the trip went smoothly; traffic had thinned out and we had no problem finding Lakeview Lodge. We unpacked and settled in and turned the TV to TWC for the latest news. Rita was expected to hit right at Sabine Pass; our home was certain to be destroyed. "Let's have a beer..."

The next evening, after Rita made landfall, she took a trajectory that brought her almost directly through Many. It was a sleepless night for all; the cabin was surrounded by tall pines, many of which would crash through the roof if they broke. We lost power sometime in the middle of the night. With a battery-powered radio to keep us informed, we huddled together in the middle of the cabin, waiting for now Tropical Storm Rita to finish blowing through. She did so after a few long hours, then the fun finally began.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good point, though sometimes it's hard to arrive to definite conclusions