Living on the Texas coast I have witnessed many tropical storms and hurricanes brewing in the Gulf over the years. Some headed our way and my parents would pile us up in the car and head for higher ground. Being a child it was always an adventure.. You could feel the excitement in the air. We didn't worry at all, it was an impromptu trip to grandma's house. We always came home safe and sound.
As an adult in charge of myself and my own 'family' (my husband and two dogs) it was a very different experience.
I had just returned from a trip to Austin and was greeted by the thought that I may have to evacuate in a few days. We spent those days glued to the television trying to decide if we should leave or not. When Rita turned into a devastating category 5 hurricane our minds were made up. Of course we soon learned that we had no choice when a mandatory evacuation was ordered.
I sat frozen by the thought that everything we had worked for would soon be gone. The storm surge prediction was 15 miles north of us. Our house would be under water. I made a list of essentials we would need during our stay out of town and things we may need when we returned if we had no home or electricity. Then came the excruciating decision of what non-essentials to take. Irreplaceable items. Collectible's, photos, sentimental's. There were so many things that just wouldn't fit.
Our family had a plan. My parents, sister and nephew and my husband and I.. Along with all of our pets would evacuate Northwest. We decided not to go too far so we could return quickly. We booked hotel rooms in advance about 100 miles away. We had a caravan of 5 cars. In order to fit all of our belongings and pets we each had to take one. Our evacuation time wasn't until 6pm so we decided to leave early to try and beat some of the traffic. Our route was planned out. We would soon receive a big wake-up call when our route was blocked off and we had to go with the flow.
It was a mass exodus.. People everywhere. Most were calm and courteous, others were driving carelessly. My mother, sister and myself were lucky to escape car accidents. My incident involved someone pulling from the shoulder in front of me and slamming on their brakes.. Which in turn caused me to do the same. The brakes locked up, tires were smoking. It was in this moment that I broke down. I didn't think I could go on. I had held it together through packing and planning and saying goodbye to my home. The stress had finally got to me.
It was only an hour and a half to our hotel however so I held it together as best I could. I should say it usually would be an hour and a half drive. This was no ordinary road trip.
I was driving our standard transmission vehicle. Not expecting it to be such an ordeal I never even thought about my rheumatoid arthritis and knee pain causing any problems. During the 5th hour I soon regretted that decision.
We left home at 3:30 and arrived at our destination at midnight. Eight and a half hours to drive 100 miles. And we were the lucky ones. We had a place to stay. We knew where we were going. Most importantly, we had the fuel to get there.
We brought snacks with us of course, but no real meals. We didn't expect for stores and restaurants 100 miles away to be closed. So we lived off of doritos and reeces pieces for 4 days.
We left for home on Sunday morning. Thankfully we were spared the brunt of the storm. Our home was here and we were safe. Everyone I know has a horror story of their evacuation. Most worse than ours. Some drove for 36 hours with no where to stay when they reached their destination. My aunt and uncle were on the road for 17 hours and made it 30 miles. Running low on fuel they were forced to turn around and go home.
I am so thankful we were spared the worst of Rita's fury and have thought of nothing more than the people to our East who's homes or lives were lost. They bear the true horror stories of this ordeal.
I've been married for 8 years. I own my home. As a child we played road games while running from storms, never truly realizing why we were leaving. I think I grew up just a little bit more.