We are so thankful that we have one!!
Here's our story:
Tuesday evening, the reports showed Rita getting bigger and heading straight for us. L and I already have the policy of evacuating for anything greater than 100 mph, so it was a no-brainer that we would leave. I haven't evacuated since I was 12, for Hurricane Alicia. When I returned from that storm with my family, there was evidence of tornadoes in our yard, and we had some minor roof damage. We also lost our major appliances. I started 7th grade living in a pop-up camper and eating off of a camp stove. I was not looking forward to repeating that this time!
The hard part was knowing what to pack. Yes, we knew all the basics.....I backed up my photos and other files from the desktop, packed our insurance papers, birth certs, etc. I dumped out some rubbermaid containers of gift wrap and ribbons under my bed and re-loaded them with pictures from the walls. No art work....all family photos. L kept saying if we got a direct hit we would lose our roof. But then, we live on a creek so flooding was possible as well. Where do we put the sentimental items that we can't take with us? Like the hand-woven laundry basket that my great-grandmother brought on the boat from Germany in the late 1880's. I put it on the first floor on top of the washing machine. These were hard decisions! I couldn't care less about our furniture, tv, etc. But the sentimental items.....that's different. I DID load some plastic containers with my scrapbooks and other photos to take with us. We decided we would not crowd the roads by taking my car. Plus the gas mileage on mine is atrocious. L's diesel truck holds 40 gallons which is like 600 miles worth, so that's the way to go for us.
Anyway, finally we set off about 5pm on Wednesday. We got about 10 miles before we hit the major traffic. We averaged about 5 mph, when we were moving. We had prepared....we had plenty of water, drinks and snacks. Our tank was full. We saw lots of things that I'll never forget. The smart vehicles had several extra plastic gas tanks strapped to the top of their vehicles. We passed on woman standing in her yard with a baby on her hip just staring at the 3 lanes of non-moving traffic. There was a car with it's hood up in her driveway. I saw a truck pull over and pop it's hood. A 40ish man went to look under the hood and what appeared to be his dad sat in the passenger seat....with an oxygen tube in his nose. At 4:30 in the morning I saw a car pulled over with a very old man, bent from osteoporosis, standing at the back stretching his legs. You could barely see his wife's white head sitting behind the wheel, waiting for him. It was discouraging to have been on the road for 9 hours and still be close enough to the coast to be watching people boarding up their windows as you drove by.
Starting about 1am things got a bit dicey. We were stuck on a 2-lane highway (trying to avoid the "parking lot" of I-10 that we’d heard about), and we actually had the truck in park for over 30 minutes about 4 different times during the wee hours of the morning. People would get out, mill around, go to the bathroom on the shoulder, get snacks & drinks, etc. Then some started to get really frustrated and would just take off into the oncoming traffic lane, passing everyone else who was waiting in line. Twice, from my vantage point,I saw a car have to go in the ditch to avoid a head-on collision. I actually called the Office of Emergency Management, who had a Ft. Bend County Sheriff's officer call me back. He said he'd had several complaints from our area, that they were sending troops out there to direct traffic, etc. He finished the call by saying "stay safe and watch your back". Comforting! We never saw any troops, however. Finally we decided to u-turn, go back 12 miles, and take a road over to I-10 to take our lumps there. Good decision. Although it took almost an hour to get ON I-to once we got there...at least the cars were moving again. 5mph beats sitting in park any day!
We arrived at our room at Lake McQueeny at 7am, extremely exhausted. Our kiddos, mercifully, had slept for most of the trip. The problem was that transferring them to their bed woke them up. We had high hopes of at least turning on cartoons and dozing while they watched tv, but the tv only got 1 channel and it had the news, and then The Price is Right. So, we unloaded the toys we'd brought and got some very interrupted sleep for about 3 hrs. Then, the kiddos were hungry and ready for McDonald's.
We have some friends in New Braunfels who very graciously rescued us from our 1-room shelter at Lake McQueeny. We moved to their newly remodeled home that they were planning on moving in to on Saturday! On Friday, L took all the kids, including their 2 girls, down to the Comal River to play and swim while I helped Shannon pack for her move. We stayed up watching Rita do her thing on Friday night, and then we realized we'd most likely escaped major damage.
Once our neighbor reported that our power was restored, we decided to leave Saturday night at 8pm. We didn't want to get in the way of any emergency/supply/FEMA trucks, so we avoided I-10. We went south to Hwy 59 and took that East to Houston. It was eerie to drive into the 4th largest city in America and see nothing open. Not even a 24 hour Walmart!
You know that feeling you have when you drive up in your driveway after being gone a while? Multiply that times 100 and that's how we felt as we pulled up saw that we still have a home. We escaped the "dirty side" of the storm, we were spared. The relief was enormous, although we realize others weren't so fortunate.
It's been 20+ years since the last one...let's hope we get that long before we have to do this again.
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