Wednesday, May 17, 2006

What Hurricane?


Oddly enough, when I moved to New Orleans, I was never really scared of *dying* in a hurricane; I was worried about my Stuff. My Stuff is very important to me. I’ve collected it over a lifetime of moving around the world, of saying goodbye to friends and lovers and places that were dear to me. My Things have been the one constant, and each is a precious reminder of a moment, a time, a place now lost to me forever. At least that’s my rationale for my extreme attachment to the antiques and books, paintings and other art objects with which I’ve filled my home…although it could just be genetic, since I see the same trait in my younger daughter.

So when I would worry about hurricanes, the bowl that is New Orleans, and the twenty-five foot wall of water that could fill that bowl, what I fretted about was my Stuff. A few years before I moved to New Orleans, the state and local governments organized plans to evacuate the city in the event of a major hurricane. The first time they tried it—I think it was for Georges—the result was a disaster. People were stuck in traffic for 12 hours just trying to get to Baton Rouge. I heard those horror stories and decided, uh-uh, I’m not doing that. I didn’t leave for Ivan in 2004, and I didn’t leave for whatever storm other people evacuated for in July of 2005. I had this theory that the local government was advising people to leave for those storms because they wanted to test their evacuation plan. After every hurricane, they’d tinker with the plan a bit, and the next evacuation would go smoother. I’m glad they did it; I just didn’t want to be part of the experiment.

But my husband I and sat down one night—I think it was in early August of 2005—and said, You know, we need to decide under what conditions we would evacuate, and where we would go. The “where” part was easy—at least that year, since my older daughter was a student up at LSU and had an apartment. As for “when,” we decided we would leave when a big Category 3 storm looked as if it was headed straight for New Orleans and had little chance of turning.

A couple of weeks later, we knew Katrina was out there in the Gulf. But as of Friday, the storm was headed into Florida and we weren’t worried. Saturday morning, we got up and went to the plant sale at City Park. We thought it a bit odd there weren’t many people there, but put it down to a lack of advertising. Then, when we were driving home up Metairie Road, we saw a shop with a sign in the window that read, “Closed due to hurricane.”

We looked at each other and said, What hurricane?

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