Evacuate! Not so easy

MEEKER I My heart goes out to all affected by Hurricane Ida and as the storm spreads north of New Orleans to more of our country being hit with harsh rain and flooding.

New Orleans rebuilt much of its infrastructure after Hurricane Katrina, 16 years ago. Time will tell how well those investments worked. Were lessons learned or are the storms just too intense to battle?

I’ve been reflecting on discussions I had with a dear friend in Galveston, Texas. She is not in this storm’s main path but already endured countless evacuations and Hurricane Ike that wiped out one car, her entire yard, and lower house level.

She was explaining to me some of the difficulties one faces when evacuating. First, you need a destination, hopefully family or friends further north in safer locations. The motels fill up quickly and lodging is more difficult if you have pets and nearly hopeless if you have a wheelchair bound husband.

Next, your entire local population is fleeing the storm, so highways are clogged, gas stations have no gas, groceries no food, and ATMs no cash. It is a desperate trip out of the storm’s projected path for thousands of people all at the same time.

Often overlooked is that people need money to travel just like going on a vacation. While this is an emergency, families still need food and shelter. If the government and Red Cross don’t set up public evacuation sites, you’re on your own and your own dime.

Evacuation means people are leaving their jobs, not getting paid, and now spending money to survive in the most meager of conditions. Children are missing school. Food is spoiling in the freezer and frig. Bills are not getting paid; mail is not delivered. Every day life is suspended.

Even with all the modern weather prediction data, evacuating every possible storm becomes tiresome and expensive. I finally understood why many folks wait until these storms become intense to leave. They’ve already boarded up their houses, packed up cars, and spent hours in line for storms that did not materialize or could have been endured at home.

Another argument can be made that folks living in the paths of hurricanes should move. Likewise, those of us living in the west should get out of Dodge before the wildfires come. If you ask me, there aren’t many weather safe places to live these days so we can’t ask someone else to move when we would not!

Has our country’s infrastructure and mitigation of catastrophic weather events helped? In the west, unless we want to spend money cutting down every dead tree or if New Orleans can pay for more levy concrete repair, it is a patchwork situation based on best estimates and funds available.

I vividly remember the news of Hurricane Katrina 16 years ago. Jay and I were hosting our art tent at Breckenridge, Colorado, talking with our neighbor artist reading a newspaper. (Back then, news was not digital so we still relied on the printed press.)

Quietly, it became apparent that devastation was rampant across New Orleans and beyond. We couldn’t do much but hope and pray. I’m back to that status as this storm does its damage. My hopes and prayers to all affected.

By KAYE SULLIVAN – Special to the Herald Times

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