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Hurricane Katrina was the eleventh named storm of 2005, and the first Category 5 hurricane of the Atlantic hurricane season.  Landfall was near New Orleans a little after 6:00 a.m. on Monday, August 29th.  My Mother, a Louisiana resident, and I evacuated to my home in Maryland.
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Disaster relief SHOULD go to where there is the most suffering.  Since New Orleans (and the Mississippi gulf coast) had the greatest need, we knew relief efforts might be delayed to the Covington and Mandeville areas.  After hearing from friends and family in Louisiana, Jan (my fiance) and I put together our own version of a CARE package - a "homegrown" disaster relief effort, you might say. 

We drove to Louisiana as soon as we could (but before the curfew was lifted), to care for my Mother's damaged home.  Bringing along a CARE package just seemed the right thing to do, and we brought as many needed supplies as we could. We had friends and family dealing with the summer heat, and their power tools needed generators and gas.  We heard some disaster relief was being turned away (???) so we took alternate and less-direct routes to get into the area.  Jan and I loaded enough food and water to survive a week, four chain saws, six generators, electric winch, a bed-mounted gas tank, 5 large gas cans, and then added tools until the truck was full.  We were determined not to have our "Good Will Trip" turn us into yet another couple that needed to be rescued because of poor planning

The following is a collage of journal entries and e-mails written during our trip.


Journal entry:  Sept 1  -  Late Thursday p.m.
       
  Today's the 3rd day since Katrina hit Louisiana.  We're still in Maryland, but very anxious to get started:  Mom and I will pull a trailer with her Le Sabre, and Jan in his 1/2-ton pick-up full of needed supplies.  Because Mom's home lies within a mandatory evacuation area, we might not be allowed to enter.  But we don't want to be held at the Louisiana border for two reasons:  People are anxiously waiting for the supplies and generators we're bringing; and, while on the road there is a danger of being robbed if we remain in one place for too long, or appear lost.   
          We just received word from Jeff (Debbie's son), and we've heard from Malcolom (our next door neighbor's son).  Both were able to drive to the perimeter of our subdivision, but had to snake their way past many fallen trees and debris.  They parked on the service road, and walked down our road.  Both say our house does not appear to have suffered, structurally, from any damage.  Yes, there is at least one tree leaning against the house, and one corner of the house is damaged. 
          How big is the tree?  How much damage to the corner?  Do we have any utilities?  What else is wrong that can't be seen from the brief roadside inspections our friends gave us. 


Journal entry:  Sept 2  -  Friday a.m.
          Relieved that her home was not destroyed by wind, or broken by fallen trees, my Mother has decided [at the last minute] she will remain behind in Maryland after all.  Jan's truck was going to carry gasoline, chainsaws and the two used generators; and Mom and I would drive her Buick pulling the trailer with the 4 new generators and supplies.  Everyone is thankful that she will stay behind in a safe place.
          But it's a delay:  We need to make last minute traveling plans, and re-pack our cargo.  Now, instead of two vehicles, we are taking one.  At least we know there is minimal damage to the house, and we can reduce the tools we'll bring along.  The truck, already heavily loaded, must now pull the trailer, too.  A heavier load, indeed, but we feel better about going south in only one vehicle.  We will only drive 60 mph to be safe.
          Another delay:  Jan's truck has a ball hitch, but no light connections for a trailer hook-up.  A quick call to "Trailers & Accessories" down the street confirms they have the parts necessary.  When the reason for our urgency is explained, they promise to take care of us ASAP.  Another setback thwarted.
          We are alarmed at the gasoline shortages and long lines we saw on tv this morning.  I'm worried we will need to use gasoline (intended for the generators and chain saws) for the truck just to reach Louisiana.  Our plan?  We will top-off the truck often, and will fill the 100-gallon tank farther north than we planned (in Tennessee?  Georgia?).  I hate to travel with so much combustible material, but we'll need the gasoline as much as food and water once we arrive in Louisiana.     

Far from being the prettiest vehicle on the road, Jan's 1/2 ton 4WD pick-up has a good engine in it, good tires and the "umph" to get our little disaster relief effort from Maryland to Louisiana.  He bought the truck's cap the day before we left, to protect (and hide) our cargo.  The plywood atop the trailer's cargo was meant to do the same thing AND to minimize wind resistance - plus we are sure the plywood will find a use once we arrive.  I bought the trailer two days earlier, along with all the generators Lowe's had in stock:  4.


Journal entry:  Sept 2  -  Friday 11:35 a.m.
          Jan just asked what time it was - now that we have at least a few miles behind us, and he feels we are [finally] on our way.  Friends have promised to stop by and call my Mother, who looked more than a little worried as we pulled out of the driveway.  What she does not know is that I am more than a little worried about her, too.
          It is a beautiful day - a perfect start for the extended "Labor Day Weekend" most of the country will soon enjoy.  Holiday traffic has been steady, and probably a little annoyed at our slower pace.  Because of our heavy load and trailer, we're keeping to our plan of not traveling more than 60 to 65 mph. 
          We will probably drive straight through to Louisiana, knowing a hotel room will be hard to find tonight - between the holiday travelers and hurricane evacuees.


Journal entry:  Sept. 2  -  Friday lunchtime
          We've stopped at a "Flying J" off I-81 to top-off the truck and fill 4 out of 5 of the extra 5-gallon tanks we bought when we realized we will run into gas problems.  Jan asked the truck driver behind us if he knew how road conditions were to the south.  The man saw our trailer filled with generators and cargo, and correctly assessed our itinerary.  He asked if we'd lost much, what were our plans, etc.  As we were about to leave he said he felt bad that there wasn't more he could do, and wanted to give us $20 to help us with gas to Louisiana.  I told him I appreciated the gesture - but told him we'd be okay.  Others lost MUCH more than we did, and recommended he send the $20 to the Red Cross instead.  I thanked him, though, and DID accept all the luck and best wishes he had to offer.


Journal entry:  Sept 2  -  Back on the road
 
          It took a little over $90 to "top" the truck and fill the gas cans - another $20 for lunch.  Until now I felt everything was "preparation" for this adventure.  Pulling away from the "Flying J", I feel we've finally begun the trip to Louisiana.  No turning back now!


Journal entry:  Sept 2  -  4:00 p.m.
          We've turned onto the Route 11 exit for Lexington, VA.  Jan called his son, Jesse, to see if he was home.  We will stop for a quick visit, and then head down the road, more refreshed by both the air conditioned break and the visit with family.  It was good we found Jesse at his apartment because I know Jan was hoping to say his goodbyes in person, and we have no idea when we'll be coming back this way.


Journal entry:  Sept 2  -  4:30 p.m.
          My cell phone is fussy:  It will charge on my A/C charger, but all the many car chargers I've tried have failed to do the job.  I've turned off the phone, to preserve the battery, knowing I can get messages when we stop.  Besides, I can't hear ANYTHING that's being said while we're driving:  Jan's truck is not air conditioned, so windows MUST be left open in order to survive.  Temps are not too high (mid 80s) but the sun on the asphalt and dashboard takes its toll.
          At Jesse's apartment I got a message from Malcolm (the neighbor's son).  He and a small group of his friends will meet us in Covington tomorrow - believing a group of workers may make the work easier.  A good plan, since we still don't really know what we will find in Louisiana.  I'll give him a call at our next stop (when we might have a better idea of our ETA).
          Traffic is still a bit heavy, but not slow.  We passed our first wreck - a single car - outside of Roanoke.  A sobering sight - and a reminder of how fast something can happen.  Especially since we are carrying so much extra gasoline. 
          By the way, for most of Virginia we found gas along the interstate selling at $3.19 to $3.29, with no lines.  Although the price is alarming, there IS the small comfort of not seeing any long lines at the pumps.


Journal entry:  Sept. 2  -  getting close to dusk
          Another fill-up with $3.19/gallon gasoline.  We've started checking our mileage with this tank-full.  Unless Jan's record keeping (or my arithmetic) is wrong we are getting about 15 mpg.  That's not great under normal driving conditions, but considering our load, we think it's pretty good.  Pressure gauges have remained within good ranges.


Journal entry:  Sept 3  -  Northern Alabama  -  very, very early in the morning
          We've driven though Tennessee, and now Georgia.  After passing a few closed gas stations and having seen long lines in Georgia, we've decided to stop at the first station that's open to top-off and put as much gas into the 100-gallon tank as we're allowed.  We are getting closer to the disaster area, and so, were relieved when we pulled up and saw a policeman at the station.  This has become a common sight, with the diminishing gas supply.  Between drive-offs, cut-ins and short tempers, a police presence is welcome by both the station attendants and honest motorists.
          We asked the attendant if we could fill our gas cans in addition to our tank, and he said we could  ...but said he only had premium gasoline left in his tanks.  But that was okay…  We'd seen posted limits at other gas stations, and enough closed gas stations that we were just happy to find open gas pumps and no lines.  And hey - guess what:  Premium gasoline in Alabama was LESS than regular gas in Georgia!  We have been worried that filling the 100 gallon tank would be difficult (and expensive) to do - even in this area not directly damaged by hurricane winds or rain.  And we will be doing it under police protection.  We'll fill-up until the attendant says stop (or their supply runs out).  I don't think he thought we'd be buying that much gas though, and I kept going inside to be sure it was alright.
          We had only just finished filling the truck when the policeman left.  That was unfortunate.  Jan and I feel vulnerable again - especially since there are a few people loitering, and we still need to fill the large 100-gallon tank and some of the small containers.  It is dark.  Not meaning to "profile", I couldn't help but be a bit nervous about one group of young people.  They lingered with no purpose, and would look our way from time to time.  Jan and I kept alert.  We were both armed (although my gun was under the journal in the cab of the truck).  They eventually left - whew - and we felt a little easier.  But two other cars arrived with people that did not get gas.  We will just have to continue to be nervous, because we really need to get this gas.
          Filling our 100-gallon tank was a chore.  Jan climbed over generators, gas cans, an air conditioner and countless boxes and tools.  After some effort, Jan reached the tank - but the pump's hose couldn't reach the tank from the back of the truck.  We were able to unscrew one of the side windows, and pass the hose through the opening to the tank's lid.  It all reminded me of a small plaque I kept on my office desk:  "Nothing without labor." This new opening will be nice later (if it doesn't rain), to access the tank's gas to fill the generators - or to even refuel the truck.  It also allows an extra place for air to circulate, since the fumes build-up.  Our final gasoline tab?  $304.00

Journal entry:  Sept 3  -  Tuscaloosa, MS
          We are not too low on gas, but have decided to top-off since it is getting harder to find stations with gasoline.  Many have pumps with plastic bags covering the nozzles, informing motorists that there is no gas.  We find a station that has gas, but there is a $25 limit, they [again] only have premium grade, and all sales are "Cash Only".  Surprisingly, there is only a short wait to get to a pump. 
          I overhear other drivers say that this must be the last station with gas - that they have been to three other stations and there is no gas.  We fill the truck and even top-off the 5-gallon gas cans to the very top.  We do not know how the gas situation will be further down the road, but we doubt it will be better - probably worse.  We are now VERY VERY THANKFUL that the station attendant in Alabama allowed us to get so much gasoline.  We begin to realize just how lucky we have been.  Including now, for $25 of gas - because as we pulled away, we noticed that a much longer line is forming at the pump.  Others have begun to discover this last, small gasoline oasis.


Journal entry:  Sept 3  -  Mississippi - mid-morning
          Gas in the truck is low, and every gas station we've passed for the last 30 miles is either closed, or has a line extending for many blocks.  Any open gas stations (and there are very few) are guarded by uniform police, and are barricaded to allow only one entrance and one exit.  We do not have the luxury of time to wait in line - there are several families waiting for the generators we are carrying.  We also do not want to stop for long, and let too many people see what we are carrying.  But we do need to re-fuel.

          We are amazed:  There is a McDonald's open.  It's hard to believe, but there it is.  It's the first time we've seen electricity AND an open business for a long time.  We got McMuffins, coffee and hashbrowns - and then pulled behind a closed Waffle House across the street to fill the truck's tank with one of the 5-gallon gas cans from the trailer.
          That's when we discovered the "safety" nozzles on the new gas containers don't allow vehicle refueling.  WHAT?!!!  Then I surprised Jan with the big funnel I bought at Wal-Mart two nights previous.  I hadn't mentioned it before, because I thought he would laugh at me for spending $2.49 for a plastic funnel.  But now it has become a major benefit, a BIG HELP, and Jan loves that I got it.  Now we can take the slow-pouring nozzles off completely, and pour from the container's opening.  Yea!


Journal entry:  Sept 3  -  north of Baton Rouge  -  early afternoon
          We just emptied another 5-gallon container of gasoline into the truck.  We stopped on the side of an exit that didn't appear to have much traffic.  We are still a bit spooked about people seeing us with so much gas - especially since lines are extremely long at the very, very few stations that still have gas to sell.  The good thing?  Gasoline is only $2.49/gallon!  ...if only you can find it, and then have the time to wait for it.
          We are taking a round-about route to get into Covington.  We've been told that we have a good chance of getting to Covington if we enter from Baton Rouge.  So when we arrived in a very desolate-looking Meridian, Mississippi, we detoured onto westbound I-20 into Jackson, and then headed south toward Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  It's longer, but gives us a better chance of not being turned away.  My normal route would've been I-59 all the way to Slidell, then I-12W to Covington.  But much of Slidell is underwater, and there's no chance of anyone getting remotely close.           
          Emptying only one container, Jan and I feel the truck's tank has enough to make it to Covington.  Once there, we can safely fill the tank in the privacy of our own backyard.


Journal entry:  Sept 3  -  Approaching Covington - mid afternoon
          Trees down.  Others snapped off.  No electricity.  Same story with gas:  Hardly any stations are open, and longer lines at the few that ARE open.  When I say long, I mean two lanes that extend nearly a quarter mile.  We are very aware that we were lucky to get gas when we did, and as much as we did, back in Alabama.  It wasn't without its cost on our nerves, though.  We've driven all night, taking turns at the wheel, and we know we are in trouble if we have an accident.  We have been extremely careful, and since filling the 100-gallon tank, have driven nearly a constant 60 mph (or slower) to help guarantee we make it to Covington.
          As we get closer to our destination, we see more and more trees damaged by wind.  ...and roofs damaged by trees.  Some trees have blown over, but many of the tall Louisiana pines have just snapped at mid-trunk, sending the top half and tree canopy flying.  We've seen the images Malcolm sent us from his cell phone camera, and wonder what to expect.  He did not take a picture of our house, but the photos of the homes on either side of us show alot of damage.  We are told our house fared well, considering, but we are back to wondering the same questions:  How big IS the tree against the house?  How much damage to the roof?  What else is wrong that can't be seen from the road?

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My neighbor's son, Malcolm, sent these pictures - from the earliest day he was able to walk (not drive) down the street to check on things.  These are pictures of his house, and a neighbor's home - taken with Malcolm's cell phone camera.  I tried to take solace in the fact that most images I've seen of the neighborhood DO NOT include photos of our house - hoping it means there must not have been enough damage to warrant  a photo (since photos, typically, have shown how bad everything looks).  Does that make sense?

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