Hurricane Rita: Our Experiences

by lora on October 3, 2005

This post is going to be rather long, as it will cover our hurricane experiences, which covered many days. Thank you for your patience in reading this lengthy post.

Monday, Sept. 19
I went to Wal-Mart to begin working on a price guide, comparing prices at different stores. I hadn’t done this in a couple of years and felt I needed to do it again. I went alone,, as it was a tedious task and I needed quiet time to think. As I was walking through the aisles, I began noticing that everyone, and I seriously mean everyone, had water in their carts. Many had camping supplies, batteries and candles. I had seen the news after church on Sunday night, and they mentioned a category 1 hurricane that was going to hit the tip of Florida. I wasn’t worried about it as I didn’t see that causing us any concern for many days. Boy was I wrong. I called Gene at work to see if he had heard anything about a hurricane, and he informed me that they had 5 projected paths, and 4 of them hit Galveston/Houston. I had seen what a hurricane could do as we went through Andrew in 1992, so I immediately got batteries and wicks for my kerosene lamps. I knew I now had to change my plans for the day completely.

I called Lindsay and we worked on our plan. She was already cooking dinner at home, so the plan worked out to be that I would come home and quickly eat, finish my shopping list and then we would do our shopping that night. I knew that in a couple of days there would be no water to be had. I did underestimate the affect hurricane Katrina would have on everyone.

We left the house about 8pm and were rushing to get to Sam’s before it closed at 8:30. Usually at that time of night, the store is quite empty. We were stunned to see the parking lot full of cars. When we were inside, we saw that carts were piled high with water, convenience foods, toilet paper, paper plates and drinks of all kinds. They had water on pallets at the front door so that it was easily accessible, so we got the amount we thought we would need. We picked up the other needed items and then went to get into line. It looked like Christmas Eve, with the lines about 10 deep. When we got to the cashier, we were talking and she told us how some stores were already out of water, and that they were out of batteries. I was pleased I had thought to get them earlier.

We went to Wal-Mart next to get the food we would need for the next couple of weeks. I made my menu in such a way that if we didn’t have power for a couple of weeks, I had things I could cook on our camp stove. Wal-Mart was frenzied, to say the least. There were only a few bottles of water, and the shelves were emptying quickly. We got what we needed and stood in a long line, again, and then headed home.

At this point, I very naively thought we would ride out the storm at home, in our mobile home. The forecasters were stating that if a category 3 hit Houston, the winds would be about 100 mph where we are. I did research and found out that our house would be destroyed with those winds. We discussed a few options, but it was getting late, so we tabled the discussion until Tuesday evening.

Tuesday, Sept. 20
After I got going, I turned on the news and got online to check the weather. I realized from what I was seeing that we needed to quickly make decisions about our plans. We had some dear friends who offered us their home, but we have two dogs to consider, and we are loathe to put 5 kids and two dogs on someone. Our first plan was to find a hotel room and ride out the storm there. I began by finding hotel chains that were pet friendly, then I began calling around. After many phone calls, the closest place I could find a hotel room was San Angelo, TX. On a good day, it’s a 6 1/2 hour trip. I couldn’t imagine it in evacuation conditions. I called Gene and we discussed it and decided that San Angelo was only going to be a last resort. We then came up with our second plan. Most of our family lives in the northwest corner of Louisiana in Bossier City. There is a lake there that both Gene and I grew up going to, at which we decided to camp. I called and made reservations for us and a tentative one for some friends. I felt much better having a plan. I could then begin the preparation for it to be carried out.

Once we had our plan I decided to e-mail our friends and let them know what was happening in our lives and to also see what they were going to be doing. I sent out the e-mail and got many responses. God used this time to truly show me what His family is all about. We had many offers to stay with friends, some from our newer cyber friends. Their offers of hospitality brought tears to my eyes. We received offers from California, Virginia, Illinois, and Alabama. These were all from our cyber friends we had never met in person, which made the invitations even sweeter. We had several offers from friends here also. God really showed us through this storm what a wonderful Christian family we have and how important it is that we show His love to people in tangible ways.

The rest of the day was spent in getting things ready for the trip and making another run to Wal-Mart. It amazed me how everyday there was less and less. It also began to bring home what could happen in the future if there is a real oil shortage. Many people compared the shelves to the time of WWII during rationing. Having never lived through something like that, I really couldn’t imagine what it would have looked like, but now I have some small idea.

Wed, Sept 21

We began our day by packing and cleaning the house. I wanted to leave the house clean on the off chance that it was still here when we returned. I did get many questions from the little ones who were doubting my sanity. They couldn’t understand why I would want to clean a house that was about to be destroyed.

As the day turned into evening, we saw what the evacuation was turning into, total chaos. We decided to change our plans of leaving Thursday mid-morning to leaving as soon as we could get everything ready.

The Pedersens offered to keep our computers and any other valuables we wanted safe, so Lindsay and Gene took our computers and the instruments to them. We didn’t want to put too much on the Pedersens, so we took our pictures, sewing machines and keyboard to Gene’s office.

After Gene left with our possessions, it began to hit me that we truly might not have any more than the shirts on our backs when the week was over. That is a very sobering thought. I have tried to hold onto our worldly possessions very loosely, trusting God to give and take. I try to be giving, and I’ve even been told that I am too giving. I personally don’t think that is possible. Through this experience, I have learned that there is a great difference between choosing to give something away and having it taken from you. God showed me very clearly that I am willing to give up what I choose, but that I am not willing to give up what He chooses. It shows me that I don’t trust Him with as much as I thought I did.

This may sound silly but the most emotional time for me was when I had the younger girls help me pack their clothes. We had the clothes all on my bed. We picked out the camping clothes, then needed to pick out a few good clothes to have in case everything was destroyed. It was very difficult for me to tell them you have to pick out 3 skirts and we’ll get a few of your good shirts to go with them. The reality that this may have been all that they had left in the world was very real to me. They were also allowed to take a backpack with some of their favorite things.

Lindsay, Hannah, Rachel and I didn’t sleep at all that night. We packed and loaded the van and got everything ready. Gene slept about three hours, at most. Sarah and Caroline slept about four hours. I was concerned about Sarah not sleeping and the stress of it all on her. Sarah not having enough rest and stress will cause her to have seizures, and not knowing what we would be facing as we drove, that was the last thing I wanted.

Thursday, Sept 22

4:30am — We were ready to head out. Our van doors were about to pop open from everything we had packed inside. The girls decided to bring their mice, fearing they would die if the house was destroyed. We had to leave the birds and iguanas in the house, which caused a great deal of concern in the younger girls. We did let the birds out of their cage to fly around the girls room, hoping to give the a little chance at survival.

As we got onto main roads, I was surprised to see several cars. I thought the roads would be pretty empty at that time of day. That would be nothing compared to what we would see as the day went on. As we turned north, we came to a stop sign at Clay road. At that time of day, you normally wouldn’t see any cars on it. When we stopped at the sign, there were cars farther than you could see. It reminded me of the end of the movie Field of Dreams. The next road we crossed, 529, was the same way. As we took this back road north, our plan was to go west on 290 to avoid some of the traffic. When we got to 290, our plans changed. The cars were at a standstill for as far as we could see.

We traveled the back roads and got to the only spot on our trip that was extremely slow. We had a stretch of 10 miles that took us an hour to drive. We stopped at a gas station to get gas at about 7am. We would normally get to this point in an hour from home. We talked to people who had been on the road since 1:45. On a normal day it would take about 30 minutes to get from our house to theirs. We felt blessed that our trip was going this well. After we passed this small town, the roads opened up for us. A lot of the people were trying to get to 45 headed north in Huntsville. When we passed over it, people were sitting still, some of them outside their cars. We didn’t see it on the road, but saw reports on the news of people pushing their cars in cases like that to conserve gas.

We drove the back roads through the country, which was a beautiful way to travel. The sunlight streaming through the trees early in the morning was beautiful. It was hard to fathom that a huge storm was headed our way.

This was taken at about 7:30am on one of the many back roads we took.

This is one of the signs directing evacuees to shelters. This one was in Lufkin, TX.

From here out our trip to Bossier was pretty easy. The travel was much like a holiday weekend with lots of people at every stop. We made the trip in about 8 hours, though it’s normally a 6 hour trip.

We got to the lake and set up camp and then we went swimming. This was the younger girls’ first time to go swimming in a lake. The temperature that afternoon was 100-101, so the water felt great!

A picture of our camp.

Another picture of our camp.

A picture of the lake and swimming area.

We had our first and only casualties of the storm on Thursday afternoon. The girls’ mice had gotten overheated in their boxes in the van, so the girls put cool water on them. It seemed logical at the time: the water cooled us off, so it would probably help them…. wrong! I have never felt more helpless than when Hannah was looking at me with her big beautiful brown eyes pleading for my help as her mouse was seizing in her hand and then died. At that point I really wanted to have a good cry. But I couldn’t. I was in the tent trying to get dressed from swimming, all the girls’ mice were dying, and Gene’s stepmother had just arrived. On top of that, his mother was due to arrive at any minute(mother and step-mother don’t usually occupy the same place at the same time). Oh, and Gene was gone to the store to get ant spray as we were being invaded by ants. Add to this that I had only had about 30 minutes sleep in the van, and you realize that only the grace of God got me through this.

We had lots of family that came by the lake to see us, bringing us fans and other supplies. As the evening wore, on we began to hear that we would have 50-75 mph winds at the lake. Gene’s brother, Guy, told us he had been preparing for us to come and stay with him. So it was decided that we would stay with him on Friday and through the weekend.

Friday, Sept 23

We began to break camp after breakfast. Gene made two trips to Guy’s house to drop stuff off. The girls did a little exploring and we took some pictures of the lake and scenery. Katie, our catahoula mix dog, was tied to a picket line. Katie is a bred hunting dog and loves to chase things, namely any wild animal she can. Katie was watching this squirrel about 20 yards away, and it was more that she could take. Suddenly she ran toward the squirrel and popped the picket line. Once she treed the squirrel she was quite happy, and came back to us when called. Gene re-tied her to the picket line and we continued packing. A little later we heard her whining. She was watching yet another squirrel. We let her off the picket to have some fun. Once she treed the squirrel, she happy again and we re-tied her. During one of Gene’s trips to Guy’s, we hear Katie whining, again. It was that same squirrel as last time. It was playing under some trees about 10 yards away from the edge of the lake. The girls and I discussed it and decided to let Katie have a little more fun. We didn’t know how much fun she’d end up having though. I had her sit as I untied the picket line, then I told her to “Get the squirrel!” Off she ran with the girls all running behind her. I stood and watched as she treed the squirrel, and just as I was about to call her back, she changed direction and headed for the lake. There was a goose swimming in the swimming area, and Katie decided if she couldn’t have squirrel, goose would be a great substitute. The younger girls were screaming, some were panicking that she’d go out too far. The goose was squawking and flew away, and Katie turned back and headed to shore, feeling that she’d done her job for the day. You need to understand that Katie entering the water never even entered our minds. Katie HATES water. She hates baths and whines the whole time. So to see her jump in the lake was quite a surprise for us. It was also great because it took our minds off of what was headed toward us.

Here’s a picture of Katie on her picket line.

Hannah, Rachel and Caroline on the beach at the lake.

We finally got to Guy’s house about 1pm. We ate lunch and began taking baths. A bath has never looked so good to me! We were dirty, dusty and sweaty. I know that southern women usually only glisten, but these southern women were sweating from the heat and working in it. Later that night, the girls and I went to dinner with my parents and one of my brothers and his wife. It was a great time of visiting together. When we left the restaurant, the sky was magnificent, fortelling of the storm to come.

The sunset from the Fire Mountain parking lot.

Lindsay and I stayed up late watching the news to see when and where the storm would hit. I made it until the eye wall hit on the Louisiana/Texas border. We had dodged the bullet and Houston wasn’t being hit. I felt conflicted about the change. I was happy we weren’t being hit, but I had a friend who was.

Saturday, Sept. 24

We awoke about 8 am after a good nights’ sleep, and shortly thereafter, the power went out. We made a quick trip to the store for supplies, and then came home to Guy’s and settled in. Guy’s wife, Fancy, was supposed to go to work at Dillard’s, but they closed the store due to the storm. After we returned, we ate lunch and watched the news and movies together. Yes, we were without power, but had a generator that we used for the TV and refrigerator. We didn’t have water, and with 9 people in the house you need to have toilets. We became creative and put buckets on the deck to collect rainwater for the tanks and refilled them as needed. We were able to keep up with the storm and they kept telling us to prepare for 50 mph winds. We were ready, but they never came. We had a lot of fun just visiting together and relaxing. I made red beans and rice for dinner, and just as I was finishing up, the power came back on.

We spoke to the Pedersens by phone, as we had every day since we left. They checked on our house, and everything was fine except for a little skirting being blown in. They told us that it was like a ghost town here, with most stores, even Wal-Mart, being closed, and there being relatively no traffic on the roads.

Sunday, Sept. 25

The storm went around us where we were, but there were trees down in the area. We spent the day preparing to leave on Monday. Gene’s dad and step mother came by to visit, and later in the day, his mom and step dad came to visit. Fancy had to work all day, and Guy, who’s a nurse, had to go in that afternoon. It was a quiet day for the girls and I, as most of the work was being done by Gene.

A picture of the van as Gene was working on getting it ready to load.

Monday, Sept 26

We loaded up the van and headed out around noon. We made a couple of stops and got to the outskirts of town around 1pm. We filled up the tank before we left Shreveport, LA, knowing that the gas shortage would be one of our biggest enemies. Guy had given us three 5 gallon gas cans that we filled and strapped to the top of our van. We had family members who were concerned that the situation would get desperate and we would be robbed of the gas. That didn’t happen, though gas was very scarce. We passed many stations that were out of gas. Maybe 7 out of 10 were out. If there was gas to be had, there was a long line for it. The first time we tried to stop for gas, we were in line, about 3 cars back from the pump, and they ran out. We finally were able to get gas in Lufkin, though we had to drive a ways out of the way, and it took us about 30 minutes to get to the pump, and you were only allowed to get $30.00 in gas. We were blessed though; we saw lines that would have taken about an hour to get to the pump.

If you can’t read the sign, it says that they are out of gas. This is just one of the many closed stations we saw.

This is a picture of a gas line near Lufkin.

There are police helping with this line.

This is where we finally got our gas.

We got dinner at Church’s Chicken in a small town named Liberty. We had to get drinks at the convenience store, as Church’s didn’t have drinks or ice because they had been without power. It was hard to get cold drinks, because the stores had been without power also.

After dinner, I was on the cell phone checking in with some people, and, because I wasn’t navigating, but talking, we missed a turn somewhere and ended up on 45, the one place we didn’t want to be. We got off as soon as we could, and took a road we thought would connect with one we were supposed to be on. We were wrong; it took us back 15 miles to Huntsville. We then filled up with gas and got on the right road home.

We arrived home at 9:45, very tired travelers, but so thankful to have a home. The girls were thrilled that the birds and iguanas were safe and sound. We really appreciated that the Lord had blessed and protected us throughout the whole ordeal. As pictures began coming in from Beaumont, Port Arthur, Lake Charles and Vermillion Parish, we realized how blessed we had truly been.

We want to thank all of you who prayed for us; your prayers were felt. God taught us many things during this trip. My prayer for myself is that I will trust God with all I have, whether I get to keep it or not.

I know this has been incredibly long, but I wanted to share the complete story with you so that those who’ve never been through anything like this could get a better feeling for it. Thank you for taking the time to read it.

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