I woke up early Saturday morning to see the NOAA 5am projections. The Storm was heading 30 by 90. It was time to prepare to get out of New Orleans.
Before everyone got up, I took the car to the gas station to fill it up with gas. I headed down Claiborne Avenue to the Chevron station at the corner of Carollton and Claiborne. There were just a few cars in line, and those of us filling up were doing so for the same reason. We were all getting ready to head out of town. Where were we heading? I was going to Lafayette, others were going to Baton Rouge, and still others were heading to family members houses throughout Louisiana. It was time to go back to our houses and board them up.
I had no illusions as to the severity of the storm or what might be left behind if the storm followed its current track. I still had hope that it would jog to the East and we would avoid the full brunt of the storm, as many storms had done over the past few years. Still, I wasn't going to stay behind and watch the results. I had a family to protect, and we were heading out of town.
Susan had done a good job on Friday night of packing all the important pictures and documents and had placed the boxes in the front room. By the time I got back home with both the car and the jeep full of gas, she was going through a second round of making sure we had everything important ready to take with us on this evacuation. We packed clothes, and I made sure I had one set of “interview” clothes to use when (not if) I began looking for a new job after the storm. I packed my current CV's and previous published works for my interview packets. I was methodically assessing the jobs option before me in academia, and I had begun searching the various Higher Education job sites for places to send my materials. Devin was oblivious to all that was going on, as many 18 month olds were probably doing that day.
People in the neighborhood were boarding up and packing cars like we were. One neighbor passed by our front yard as we were packing and asked where we were heading. “Lafayette” I told him. I asked him what his plans were. He mentioned that he was a very religious man and would leave his fate in God's hands. He was going to stay behind in his house. I found out later that he had to be airlifted out of the neighborhood four days after the flood. I walked over to the Rendon Grocery store, just down the corner from our house, to pick up some food for the trip to Lafayette. The owners of the grocery, Cuban immigrants who had put together a great business here in the neighborhood, told me that they would leave too if they could, but they were going to stay behind to “protect” the business from the storm. They gave me their cell phone numbers so that I could call them at some point in time to get their assessment of how the neighborhood weathered the storm.
We insisted that Miss Lee evacuate with us, since her sister Miss Tony was going to have to stay behind. Tony was a nurse at Lindy Boggs Hospital and was required to stay behind. We found out later that Tony had been relieved early Monday morning after the storm appeared to have brushed the city and was back in her house when the water started to rise quickly in our neighborhood Monday afternoon. She and her son James would also be airlifted out of the neighborhood four days after the storm.
My plan was to leave early Sunday morning for Lafayette. By the time Saturday night came around, we were pretty much packed and ready to head out. As normal as we tried to make the night, it was all pretty surreal.
Around 9pm I received a call from my friend Kaya Martinez about whether she should evacuate. I told her emphatically that she should. She then informed me that she had no car to leave, at which point I told her I would come to her house in the Marigny to pick her up and take her to Lafayette with us.
Shortly after the call, we left Devin in the care of Miss Lee and Susan and I drove to the Marigny to pick up Kaya. Once secured, the three of us drove through the Quarter on our way back to our house in Broadmoor. Driving down Royal Street was unbelieveable. I was surprised by how many people were still on the streets and how many businesses were not boarded up. Was I the only one who thought this storm could potentially destroy the city? As we looked around at all the activity taking place around us in the Quarter, I told Kaya and Susan that this might be the last time we would see the Quarter.
At 4am, Sunday August 28, 2005, Susan, Devin and I, along with Miss Lee, Kaya, and our cat Serenity, started on our 9 hour trek to Lafayette. Susan had called her former husband Troy to see what plans he had with her two children Jason and Caitlin for the evacuation. He had taken them on a trip to Florida and was heading to Lafayette as well to stay with his family. Knowing we would all be together later in the day, Susan breathed a sigh of relief.
Susan made one more run through the house, and took some pictures of Jason and Caitlin that she had not seen before. She also took a yellow plastic dragon we had bought the previous year in San Francisco. It was on top of the TV. I gave Susan one of my raised eyebrow looks, and she said she was just throwing anything she saw into the last box.
As we locked the door and walked out the house, I told Susan to take a good look at the house. It would probably be the last time we would ever see it, I told her. She broke down in tears in my arms, and though we would again see it later, and indeed see it flourish in the neighborhood today, it would definitely be the last time we would leave the house as its residents.
The nine hour trip to Lafayette (normally a 2 hour trip) was long but relatively easy. At 9am, we heard Nagin give the order to evacuate the city. By noon, we had reached Lafayette and after a while we settled into the room. Downstairs in the lobby, other New Orleanians were huddled around the tv watching the progress of the storm.
It was going to be a long two days....
To be continued....