We got back home late last night. I thought I’d try to round up what remaining thoughts I have on our Gustavian evacucation. (Photos here.)
Government Before: I think Mayor Nagin’s strong words urging people to evacuate played well in the national media. My father-in-law made a remark along those lines: At least he got people moving. But Nagin oversold the destructiveness of Gustav, beyond what the evidence indicated, and in the end that’s counter-productive. It weakens what little trust people have in our local authorities and diminishes the chance people will evacuate next time. By contrast, it seemed that Aaron Broussard of Jefferson Parish was doing his damnedest to show up Orleans Parish by hitting all the right notes. He urged people to leave in a way that was firm and serious but without resorting to scare-mongering.
Government During: Traffic was jammed up on I-59, in part because Mississippi wasn’t letting people from Louisiana continue east on I-10. I understand that’s because I-10 was getting jammed up with Mississippi and Alabama residents who were evacuating. So they forced people north on I-59 and took away the eastward option. Does that make sense? Is it really the best plan? I honestly don’t know, but it bears investigating. We were headed up I-59 anyway, and it was mighty crowded.
Government After: A definite point of frustration had to do with the re-entry plan. I tuned into BBC radio one afternoon and heard a one-liner in their news roundup, “The government has set up checkpoints around New Orleans to prevent residents from returning home after evacuating for Hurricane Gustav.” That’s a paraphrase but it captures the absurdity of the situation. People should have been allowed back sooner. Again, Jefferson made Orleans look bad by letting people in sooner even though I think they had worse damage.
Felines: Evacuating with cats sucks, no two ways about it. Both are cats had a propensity for pooping in their cages. If you’re not aware, feline feces stinks to high heaven, I suppose because they’re carnivores. On the way back Folds pooped and barfed all over herself. Ugh. I’m seriously considering buying a couple large auto-feeders/waterers and just leaving the cats at home next time. That’s what we did for the ferals who live behind our house, and it seemed to work OK.
Child: Evacuating with an infant also sucks, especially since she’s teething, but it could have been worse. If she was old enough to be mobile, for example, she might have been more frustrated at long periods of confinement in her car seat.
Rural Routes: We changed up our return route by taking state roads through Owensboro KY (via Jasper IN) thus avoiding Louisville entirely. I like the city of Louisville, but I don’t care for the experience of driving through it on I-65. It was twenty miles shorter but took twenty minutes longer, was much more pleasant, very beautiful and totally worth it. Rural routes also proved useful during the initial phase of our evacuation. I resolve to use them more in future.
Ultimately I am glad we evacuated. It wasn’t all fun and games, but it wasn’t abject misery either. In retrospect we know that we’d have had a pretty easy time of it if we’d stayed. I estimate we lost power for ten hours. The house appears to be in good shape. Most of the city lost power, stores were closed, and it would have been a little rough, but we’d have been relatively comfortable. Indeed, it’s safe to say we’d have been more comfortable if we’d stayed. But that’s hindsight. We couldn’t know that in advance. Gustav could have come ashore stronger, he could have veered a little to the east, and things could have been very different. I think we did the smart thing, for us: We played it safe. I’m not saying anybody who stayed behind was stupid. Each individual and family has their own set of judgments to make. It’s complex and complicated and I’m not about to second guess anyone else.
More Government – Public Evacuation Service: The gov’t finally got it in gear to sponsor evacuations. This is designed to evacuate those who can’t evacuate themselves for whatever reason. They got lots of my neighbors out by bus. But some of the shelters to which people were taken lacked the most basic facilities. I just talked to one of my neighbors; she’s convinced many people won’t want to evacuate next time because of the substandard conditions they encountered. I know some people will say the poor should be grateful for any services they receive, and should never complain no matter how poor the quality. Let me counter that by saying that taxpayers like myself expect public services to meet a higher standard. Basic sanitation would be a good start.
My neighbor reported encountering prejudice as well: “You people should have drowned in Katrina.” This was from black people in Alabama. She was also ashamed of the behavior of some of her fellow evacuees, making New Orleans look bad. But as my co-worker Jim says, the model may not be sustainable. How many “unnecessary” evacuations will we fund before the public or the state grows weary of the expense? We seem to have gutted every public service in New Orleans post-Katrina, so I have a hard time imagining we’ll support this for long.
Our house seems to have held up pretty well. Our shed lost part of its roof, and the garden looks pretty sorry. That patio umbrella that blew onto the neighbors roof a month ago? Gustav blew it down. He also blew down the bucket of tar which had been sitting on Craig’s roof for four years. Katrina couldn’t even blow that thing down.