Wednesday, August 27, 2008

the decision at hand for New Orleans

The third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is this weekend and Mother Nature seems to think that the best way to celebrate this is to throw another hurricane at New Orleans. I've been watching this storm probably just as much as the actual residents of New Orleans, and other than the fact that I haven't run to WalMart in a frenzy to stock up on candles and tuna, I feel exactly the same as I did when I lived there and had to make the big decision of to evacuate or not to evacuate.

When I meet people and they find out that I left NOLA because of Katrina, many ask why so many people didn't evacuate. "If they knew it could be bad, why didn't they leave?" "Isn't it just irresponsible to stay?" "How could they just not go?" These are all valid questions and, honestly, I would rather people ask and get answers rather than just assuming that folks in NOLA are stupid and that's why they didn't leave. And trust me, some people do believe that NOLA residents are just dumb and have no problem telling me that. They usually follow this sentiment up with "People shouldn't be allowed to live in New Orleans in the first place." I usually follow this up with a polite "Fuck you, you arrogant asshat. I hope your hometown falls into a sinkhole soon." Bonus points to me for saying it with a big shit-eating grin on my face.

But honestly, deciding to evacuate is a huge decision. One I've wrestled with many times as an adult and I can say that coming to a decision never is easy. Yes, evacuating for every hurricane that is even a mild threat to NOLA would be the correct move, but in reality that will never happen. Evacuating is a huge expense. It's a hassle. It's time consuming. And a lot of the times it's totally pointless. Katrina has been the one time in my life that evacuating was the correct decision. Every other hurricane I experienced in my 25 years in NOLA either missed the city at the last minute or didn't bring with it more than a heavy rain and some wind. You can imagine how this would make you think twice about evacuating for every hurricane gunning towards the city.

The other problem with evacuating is the expense. Hurricanes can happen multiple times a summer, seriously there is no limit. If you evacuated for every one you're looking at huge amounts of money spent on all kinds of things: hotels, gas, food, and many other various expenses along the way. And let's not overlook the fact that if the hurricane misses the city, you could be out a day or more of work. That's money lost for many residents, especially ones that work on hourly pay scales. And for many of those people, that's money they can't afford to not make.

But losing a couple of days of work is really a small concern, considering that you could lose your job for evacuating. Many retail stores and restaurants are not sympathetic to people's needs to flee. If the business does not shut down for evacuations, you could be faulted as a "no show" for any shift that you're scheduled for. Same thing after evacuating; if the business opens and you're on your way back from Houston and can't make your Tuesday morning shift then you could be out a job. It's not fair, but it happens. I worked at a business that said we would be fired for not showing up if we chose to evacuate and didn't make our shifts. And when you need that income desperately, sometimes the easy decision is not to head out of town. Or to send your family and stay behind, hoping for the best.

Has this become an unfun blog post about a depressing topic? ding ding ding, we have a winner! Yes it has! Sorry. Go get a cookie if you've read this far. And go get me a drink because, dude, I neeeed one. And I swear I only have like one more point to make.

Right now Hurricane Gustav is just entering the Gulf of Mexico but if you started to call hotels in the typical cities people evacuate towards (Houston, Baton Rouge, Shreveport, etc) I bet you couldn't get a room anywhere. And if you could get a room, I bet they would only hold it for you for a couple of hours. One time, before Katrina, a hurricane was heading our way. I called Houston and booked a room, but the hotel told me they would only hold my room until 6pm on the day of the reservation. Problem was, I was not going to make it to Houston in that time frame. I offered to pay for the whole reservation up front, but they wouldn't allow it. The hotel staff told me that they can't hold reservations during times of evacuation because of such high demand. If I couldn't be there by 6pm, my room would go to someone standing in the lobby. I called a few other hotels, but no one else had rooms open. I decided not to evacuate because where would I go? I would have had to sleep in my car in Houston and that wasn't an option. And going past Houston wasn't an option because I needed to be able to get back to the city quickly to get back to work if the hurricane didn't do much damage. For many people that don't have family willing to take them in, leaving is hard. You don't know where you'll end up, you don't know if there will be room for you. You just don't know and sometimes that stops people dead in their tracks.

For Katrina jparks and I went back and forth about evacuating. We had friends in Houston to stay with if needed (and we ended up doing just that), and we had the money to evacuate, but still we thought long and hard about it. At first we weren't going to leave our house. Then we were going to stay with my mom in the suburbs. Finally we decided to get the hell out. Had we stayed in our house, bad things would have happened to us. Had we stayed at my mom's, we would have physically been fine, but without power or water and we would have been forced to leave anyway. Getting out for Katrina was the right decision and one that many people just couldn't make.

I hope that people continue to watch Gustav and take the hard lessons from Katrina into account when making their plans. It's not an easy decision to leave, but if Gustav stays on it's path (which it might not. there's plenty of time for it to turn. turn, you bastard TURN), it will be the correct one.

But what do I know? I'm just a New Orleans girl stuck in California.


  1. No hotels around Jackson. I looked. :(

    Die, Gustav, die!!!

  2. So there are about a million other things that need to still be fixed from Katrina, but I do wonder if anyone's ever floated the idea of enacting legislation that says that an employer cannot fire an employee who decides to evacuate. I don't think you can force them to be paid if they don't work (and so that may just mean the rest of it doesn't matter much to folks) but the idea that you can be fired because you took reasonable precautions to evacuate during a storm of a particular magnitude, and provided you return in a reasonable timeframe after it has passed, is gross. But then again I'm practically a communist.

  3. I second the "turn you bastard TURN". And third, fourth, and fifth it.

    Next time someone makes a comment about how people shouldn't be allowed to live in New Orleans, give them my phone number after you curse them out. I'd like to be the second to do so.

  4. Somebody has a strong opinion!! Ha, kidding, you've earned the right to be opinionated on this topic. Gotta say though, people here are freaking out...FREAKING out. It's actually driving me insane. All I did today was fight with my mom about the stupid thing (for many reasons I won't go into, other than that they are staying at our apartment if they evacuate, with their barking dogs and cat that my husband is allergic to). Oh well. Hotels are actually booked up to Missouri (so I've heard) and here in Gonzales there is no water on any stores' shelves. We went to go buy gas today because we are going out of town for the weekend to our house, and it was backed up on the highway! And I live in GONZALES. I just hope it turns but then it just becomes someone elses problem...

  5. I remember hearing as it approached Florida that Katrina was a hurricane the same way Spam is a meat...and when we got back into cellphone range after two days in Yosemite, they were saying it was approaching New Orleans and they were using the word "Camille," which my whole life was like hearing "Oh, here comes a nuclear missile."

    People say you can't be in New Orleans because of hurricanes? Well, you better clear out California before the quakes start up again, and you'd better empty the Mississippi River area on both sides, and looks like Florida has to go, and we should definitely write off Tornado Alley, and there are blizzards in the Northeast, and...and...and...what do you mean I'm not allowed to shoot people for being stupid? They're not going to miss that many Alabamians...

    Ah well. I'll be glued to until my buddy Joseph gives me the high sign from Jean Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop. Meanwhile, I have Peychaud's Bitters if you need Sazeracs.

  6. my ILs had to get a room in tuscaloosa. HALLELUJAH!!!

    i want to see you tell someone that you hope their city falls into a sinkhole. please please please! that'd be awesome.

  7. WORD.

    I'm glad you wrote this post.

  8. We were more than happy to help. It was an awful reason for a visit, to be sure, but we definitely enjoyed having you and jparks your fuzzy coterie around. (There's still a nice indentation in the couch cushions should someone want to take up residence again.)

    Turn west, Gustav: We could use the rain over here.

  9. AMEN.

    I also second what Mary-Lynn said. And what Jon said. (Except for the shooting people parts because I really do try to be a pacifist, despite my choice in husbands...)

  10. I had no idea. (About you, I knew about Gustav.) Keeping my fingers crossed that the bastard turns.

  11. To piggyback on Jon, there are disasters that can happen almost anywhere. There's a fault under St. Louis that rocked a 9-plus earthquake about 200 years ago. I don't know if they're prepared there or not. Here, we have earthquake standards for buildings. If you live in a house on fill, I don't know that that's very smart. In Chicago, you keep enough food and water around in case there's a blizzard and you can't leave for a couple days. And enough gas in your car so that it doesn't freeze when it's 20 below. In LA, you keep riot gear around.

    If you live below sea level and in a place where there will be hurricanes, you should have some protections, like, say, levees. Some preparations are the responsibility of the individual, some of the government. While I would never say that someone shouldn't be allowed to live somewhere because it's dangerous, I could see where the asshats might think it was dumb to live somewhere and not protect yourselves from the obvious dangers. In the case of Katrina, of course, most fault was on the government.

    Hopefully that doesn't make me an asshat. But if it does, and Regan wishes my home town would fall into a sinkhole, well, I come from one of a hundred and fifty crappy Chicago suburbs, so it wouldn't be that great a loss.

  12. I know I had to drive home after a shift at Barnes and Noble through water that reached my car's windows. And even though my apartment flooded (it was lily) I STILL had to come in for my shift even though I tried to call out - hey my apartment flooded! And don't forget about the University of New Orleans. They are the last school to announce when they are closing and I have often often had professors ENTIRELY unsympathetic about evacuating and making it back in time -even this semester with memories of Katrina still fresh. Plus, there is the lovely traffic to look forward to. Great Post!

  13. Been thinkin' about you.
    we're "hunkered down" (there's only a few times that phrase can ever really be used accurately) and staying put.
    ((((hugs)))) from the BR louisiana girl you used to make laugh frequently.
    Pam is in Robert, LA. We'll all stay safe.
    Talk w/ you after (not thru - we lose power every time!).

  14. Mike baby and I are now on our way to missouri to stay with Melissa and troy at he parents. It is the closest safe and free place. couldn't get email to work so am replying here

  15. Mandy! I'm so glad to hear that you guys are heading somewhere safe! Text me or leave comments to let me know how you're all doing.


    That's all I got to say. :)

  17. I have been glued to the TV all night even though I mean nothing changed since it was still far enough away - I can't not watch. And even though at one point I literally felt sick that I had my head between my legs. But I lived in NO for 7 years and had similar experiences - with the evacuating and the decisions and as someone who has lived in Florida the other 23 years - I get it. Thinking good positive thoughts as I watch this thing come onto land.

  18. I didn't realize you were in NOLA for Katrina. This was a good explanation because as a dumb Midwesterner, I never understood why people didn't evacuate. The hard thing with Katrina was that is wasn't that strong a few days before and then just gained strength. I'm glad that it seems that everyone is more forgiving and things have been seemingly handled better for Gustav. And that Gustav wasn't as damaging.