Saturday, September 24, 2005

Evacuating really, really, REALLY sucks

Ok, I'm retyping this beginning portion for the THIRD TIME because my mom has a crappy Imac, and I keep thinking its my PC, and my posts keep getting deleted. I HATE MACS!!!

Ok, so anyways, my brain is fried (this computer isn't helping things) - but I will try to chronicle my really, horrible mis-adventure to the best I can. Just keep in mind that my brain is fried, so if I don't make sense, then JUST DEAL. Ok?

Rita is upgraded to a Cat 5 and is not 350 miles across. We decide to evacuate to Denver - which is a bit extreme, but there really weren't any hotels available in other cities, and I was fully expecting my house to be un-livable ala Katrina, so I wanted a place to stay and hide out for as long as I needed to. Work was being a bunch of bastards. My boss was all pissy at us b/c none of us were working. And he said that we were welcome to evacuate, but if we did, any time spent away from work would have to be billed as our vacation time. Compassionate, huh? So, my day at work was spent getting personal affairs in order, and securing my office for the storm.

I departed work at 5 PM and on the drive home, I lost it. Like near hysteria crying lost it. It was just the first time all week where I've had a moment to let my brain relax and think about what could happen. It wasn't pretty.

So, I get home, Will is taking a NAP. I was pissed. He had NO CLUE about how much work needed to be done or how serious this all was. So, I sent him to get gasoline while I start packing and securing the house. And let me tell you - packing up the house was surreal, not to mention figuring out what you could take with you. I basically packed up all our files, photographs, computer hard drive, a weeks worth of clothes, kitty stuff, some jewelry - and THAT'S IT. Which is crazy, but its all I could fit. Then came securing the house. Taking down all pictures on the walls, picking everything up from the floor in case of flooding, cleaning out the fridge and freezer. Yes, we have no food in our house that was perishable. Which is horrible. I kept all the nice frozen meats and several condiments (plus some food we could eat along the way) to take with us in coolers - and everything else went in the dumpster. About 8 kitchen sized bags of food - all trashed. But it was better to toss food then to ruin a refridgerator.

Will came back after a little over an hour. Keep in mind, I sent him out for gas ~6 PM. He said he waited in line for over an hour for gas, due to the huge lines. But good news, there were cops present to keep order. Craziness.

So, at about 11 PM the truck is packed and we watch a little tv before going to bed.

Wake-up is at 2:30 AM so we can hit the road at 3. We each had a hard time sleeping and got a whopping 2 hours of sleep each. We pack everything up (including kitties - who were wigged out), turned the electricity off at the breaker, and said good bye to our house.

Now as if that wasn't bad enough - it gets way worse. Traffic is crazy. At 3 AM. We take my back route to get around Katy to hit I-10 Westbound. We get to the road which connects to I-10 at approximately 3:20 AM. We travel approximately 2 miles over the next 3.5 HOURS. The sun is starting to come up. Lots of people are out of their cars, walking dogs, wandering around, wondering what the hell is going on. We can see I-10 from where we are. There have also been several police cars and light-duty fire trucks that have driven past us. At 7:30, we decide to bail and find another way to get to I-10. We turn on the local radio, discover that all routes out of the city are parking lots and most gas stations are out of gas. We find a road north, drive over I-10 and its a sea of brake lights. We decide to try to get out of town on little country highways rather than the interstate. So, we find FM 529. There's tons of cars, but its moving - VERY slowly, but hey, compared to the last road we were on, even slow movement is still movement. Its basically stop and go the whole time. I think we finally crossed the Harris County line at 10:30 (or so - my timeline is fuzzy). Around noon, we're still on this road. We've only managed to drive 20 or 30 miles - in 8 hours. Gas is 3/4 full, so we're ok, but my bladder is getting full and I'm worried about the kitties needing food and water. This is basically where chaos begins. FM529 is a little 2 lane country road. Masses of people pull out of line and beginning driving in the opposite lane, pulling to the side when a car wishes to drive east. At first, I thought these people were reckelss idiots. Then, overcome with frustration (who wouldn't after going 5 mph for HOURS) decided to jump into the eastbound lane as well. For the most part this was going ok - I wasn't putting us in danger. Then I end up behind these 2 cars - one with Texas plates, the other with Louisiana plates. Tx car is very abruptly swerving in and out of traffic, cutting off the LA car frequently - to the point of almost hitting her. Think bumper car movements - that's what was going on here. Then the LA car is in front - stops her car (keep in mind we're in the eastbound lane going west) and starts yelling at the TX car. Now, I can't really blame her. Then the TX driver (ghetto-looking black woman) gets out of her car and pulls out (what I swear was) a knife. They get in a screaming match. I'm right behind them with no way to escape going please don't involve me, please! And I'm in disbelief that I'm even in this situation. Finally, everyone surrounding them starts harassing the ladies, and they get back in their cars. About an hour later - we're still driving in the opposite lane - only traffic isn't moving AT ALL. In fact, I notice more and more cars headed eastward - and that these cars are full of stuff, looking like they're evacuating as well. Then it hits me. The county roads are all jammed up and NO ONE is going anywhere, and these cars have decided to turn around and try other routes. I'm in utter disbelief pretty much the entire morning. To have to leave your house, hoping you'll return to see it ok - then to spend 10 hours traveling hardly any miles, only to have to turn around. The thought at this point did occur to me to just head back to the house, but the even scarier thought of a Cat 4 or 5 hitting us made me realize that we had to get out of town. We did turn around on the road, catch another county road south to 1-10, because at this point, TXDOT had opened up all lanes of I-10 going westbound. We stopped in this small town for a gas/bathroom break (we were on a half tank). None of the stations had gas. What they did have was lines of at least 20 cars waiting for a fuel tanker to come in and resupply them. Even the bathroom line was insane. So, we decided to keep pushing to I-10 for gas because there were big truck stops along the way and our odds were greater along that corridor. So, we get to I-10 and what do you know, no traffic. People are crusing right along. We jump on, get in the normally east-bound lanes, and bam, 50 mph. There's cars, but we're all moving. At 3 PM we stop in Luling for gas - 12 hr into our trip. We had travelled something like 120 or 150 miles. In 12 HOURS. This truck stop was very clean and very helpful. Bathroom was clean and uncrowded. I got some bottles of water and come Coke Icees for the road.

At this point, Will and I had to come up with a plan. Our original plan was to drive straight to Denver. Theoretically, its 17 hours, if you drive to Dallas. Well, we had to drive to San Antonio (the road to Dallas was much worse than where we were). So, we were not only well out of our way, but WELL behind schedule. We decide to get to San Antonio and call for hotels, then most likely take county highways north to wherever.

At 5 PM we arrive in San Antonio after 14 hrs on the road. Keep in mind that it normally takes 3 hours to get to S.A. We call hotels, there's nothing. We manage to get a hotel in Abiline, TX, which is on our way to Denver, so that's the plan. Once we got past San Antonio, the roads lightened up and driving was actually pleasant. We got on some random US highway and drove through the Hill Country, slowing down for these small little towns. Finally got a Abiline at 9 PM. Total mileage - 500. Total time, 16 hours.

We're just spent and exausted. Checked into out hotel (Courtyard) - which as it turns out did not take pets. So then we had to perform "operation smuggle kitties". And the hotel luggage dolly thingy was AWOL. so we had to carry everything up the stairs.... Anways, we got settled, ate dinner (leftover pasta salad I brought from the house) and crashed for the night.

The local news was interesting - apparently all the hotels were booked with evacuees, and they already had on Red Cross shelter that was full. Craziness.

I'd also like to add that the kitties were very strangely quiet the entire way. I didn't even have to drug them. These are the same cats which can't even go the 15 min drive to the vet w/out yowling the entire time. Very strange. We kept checking on them too - to make sure they were alive, and they were fine. Which was good for us, even if it was very strange. But it just added to the strangeness of the day.

Woke up at 8:30. Packed. Found the hotel luggage dolly. Smuggled kitties back out of the hotel. Stopped for gas and then went to Starbucks for b'fast. Even though we're evacuees - we still have standards. ;) Hit the road at 10:30 and begin the trek to Denver. Roads are pretty much empty. Cross the Colorado border at about 5 PM. YAY! Then just more driving, driving, driving - until we reached my mom's house at 8:30.

My mom was actually very sweet and she cleared out the basement for us and the kitties. She's allergic to cats, so I was pretty worried that she would freak out with them here. She even made us a bed down there so we could keep Ernie and Swift company. And then she even had dinner waiting for us. Nice mom.

Well, we're still tired. Kitties (Swift in particular) are pretty freaked out. Swift is pretty scared of the noises from upstairs - floors creaking, footsteps. So she's pretty much hiding under the bed. She's eating and drinking water, so I'm not super worried. Mom's alreayd put Will to work doing chores. I'm not doing much, just trying to chill out. Thinking about swimming laps at the local pool later, and maybe even catching a Rockies game at Coors Field (even though I'm sure they'll lose).

Caught a bit of Rita coverage. At this point - I feel pretty silly for driving all the way up here. Like I really over-reacted. But at the time, there was no way of knowing how this would end up and my objective was to go somewhere where I knew we would be taken care of.

I'm sure we will have power at work on Monday, meaning those bastards will basically expect me to show up ASAP. Lovely. Not sure when we'll begin the big drive back - I'm very afraid of traffic being super crappy again.

I'm not really believing the reports that 2.3 million ppl from the Gulf Coast evacuated. Houston itself has 4 million. I'm thinking the quoted 2.3 million is the popluation of the manditory evacation zones - and doesn't include people (like us) who evacuated volunatarily. Anyways, I'm pretty certain that they will not make I-10, etc. open to travel east or south only on the way back, so you'll have basically the same situation on the return trip. Which really isn't my idea of fun, as Thursday was really one of the most surreal and horrible days I've yet to experience - and I wasn't even one of the ones who were bad off.

Anyways, I'm rambling at this point. So I'm thinking a nap is in order. Woo!

Thanks for all your good thoughts and concerns :) I'll keep everyone posted about details for the drive back home.


Vicky said...

Hey Erin its good to hear you guys made it to your mom's OK, even if it took forever. You had to make the best decision you could at the time with the information you had. Even though the storm shifted a bit, you did the right thing. I saw on the Chronicle's website that they will be bringing everyone back in stages, so hopefully that will help w/ the traffic congestion. Hey go see that Rockies game!!

Paula said...

So glad you guys made it up there safely. Like Vicky said, it seems that the mayor is going to request that employers don't require workers back on Monday or Tuesday. I caught all that on, where they have streaming video. Take a break before you have to head back. And, take care!!

Erin said...

See, my office mgr is being such a jerk about this that I bet they'll ask everyone to be back Monday.

At our office meeting Wed, he said that unless the Mayor made evacuation Manditory for everyone, then we'd have to either work or use our vacation time.

We've got to get the oil changed on our truck Monday and really, I don't feel like driving for a few days, so I'm thinking we'll try to head back Tuesday. We'd get back late Tues, or spend the night somewhere and get back Wed, and by doing that we should miss most of the crowds.

Jess said...

Glad you guys made it up there safe and sound. What an ordeal! I think you're probably better off waiting a little while and then heading back down. Wow, your bosses are jerks (for making you take vacay) but I guess we knew that already.

Don't feel bad about leaving. Better safe than sorry. I would have done the same thing.