So now I know. I know two things. First, what is it is like to be part of an evacuation. Second, that I am not going to do it again. Or, to be clear, next time I evacuate it is going to be because it is a mandatory evacuation because there is a Category 5 storm headed straight for Lafayette, the city in which I live.
Last time a storm headed our way, it was Hurricane Lili in September of 2002. I was just coming off my usual dog days of Louisiana summers sinus infection, and in fact prepared for the storm riding the crest of a steroid injection. It also meant that I spent much of the night awake as the storm built to full fury only to zonk out during the storm’s “peak” — I’m still wrestling with the notion of what the peak of a hurricane is, because it is pretty much all bad.
After Lili, my wife turned to me and said, quite clearly, “The next time a storm like that comes our way, we are leaving.”
I took her at her word, and as Rita slowly nudged her expected path eastward, I began to prepare to move out. By Thursday morning, September 22, the Louisiana governor had issued mandatory evacuations for most coastal areas as well as other low-lying areas further inland apt to flood. Lafayette was under a voluntary evacuation.
But this time around it’s not just me and my wife, and we would probably have stayed and weathered the storm, as they. We now have a one year old, and I just could not rationalize taking any kind of chance with her, so into the car went the three of us as well as clothes and stuff to keep us occupied for a few days. (Okay, dumb optimism on my part. We did not pack for anything serious to happen to our house. Stupid, but we’re going to get to boneheadedness in a moment, so please be patient with the story so far.) And we headed east to Baton Rouge, which our governor had also asked us folks not to go to, but since I have family in Baton Rouge, I figured we were in the right to go there.
Now, the problem with all these grand evacuation plans, or lack thereof if you are of that school of thought, is that they depend upon there being decent evacuation routes. And with over fifty years of bad planning and “not in my back yard” mindsets and taxpayers who think taxes only support welfare moms and not things like roads, there just aren’t that many evacuation routes. Lafayette has three major highways that serve it: I-10, I-49, and Route 90.
I-10 heads east and it heads west, and no one wanted to go west.
Route 90 heads west and it heads south, to New Orleans. Mmmm, nah ah.
I-49 heads north.
And everyone was headed north. We saw miles and miles of cars as we passed over I-49 headed east on I-10. And we made good time, until we got to the usual snafu on that bit of highway between Lafayette and Baton Rouge, the Atchafalaya Basin Freeway, or as it is better known around here, “the basin bridge” aka “the basin overpass” aka “the overpass.”