The Great Evacuation of '05 -- Part III

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The reason for the strange post title will soon become apparent....

Hurricane Lilies

Just recently, on the twenty-first, was the first anniversary of the evacuation of parts of Houston due to the approach of Hurricane Rita, largest evacuation ever to occur in the United States, a historical event in which my wife and I participated. I recalled, after hearing about the anniversary on the news, that I never finished recording my thoughts on the event. And then I forgot about it again until I saw these beauties Saturday morning when I went out to mow the yard.

And why did these remind me of the evacuation? For one thing, it is because they were in bloom upon our return and we were damned lucky they weren't the only things standing on our lot!

Not only that, these beautiful flowers are blooms of Lycoris radiata (illustrated), also known variously as the "spider lily", the "naked lady", the "schoolhouse lily" or, in the American South, the "hurricane lily", due to its tendency to bloom during hurricane season. This year is my second year to see these gorgeous blooms. I planted the bulbs, sent to me by my mother, three years ago, but the plants needed an extra year after planting to store enough energy to bloom.

Note in the image at the upper left that there is nothing but the naked flower stalk rising from the pot. This is why the plant is sometimes called the "naked lady". It exists as an unspectacular clump of grassy-looking foliage during the spring and early summer before dying down to nothing. And then, during hurricane season, you are pleasantly surprised one day to look out at your formerly empty pot to see it full of blooms -- if you aren't running for your life from a hurricane!

A Long Delay

Last year, upon returning from the Great Evacuation of '05, I photographed last year's blooms specifically for inclusion at the end of my series on the evacuation, but I hated how they came out. This caused me to put off finishing the series until I found some better pictures, ultimately meaning that I eventually forgot to complete the series. These pictures, which I took outside in the dark, turned out much better.

So now, I have pictures and they are prodding me to finish what little is left of the tale. I'd originally intended to editorialize about "price gouging", but this has already been done by Thomas Sowell, so I will not. I do have other thoughts on how deregulation would encourage better hurricane preparedness, but I will save them for later.

So, without further ado....

The Return Trip

The trip home, following the weekend, was delayed due to the city government staggering repopulation in order to avoid huge traffic snarls on the return trip. Recall that originally, I was planning to attend my high school class reunion that weekend anyway. If I recall correctly, I'd reserved the following Monday off from work for travel , but ended up having to wait until Tuesday or Wednesday.

The trip itself was mostly uneventful until south of Lufkin, where we began seeing the occasional damaged structure or tree. We took US 59 back most of the way, and this skirted an area that saw Category 1 winds when Rita struck. After our adventures with gas on the way out, we were very careful again, although we heard that stations along the route had been refilled.

In Diboll, however, we learned that a full station is not necessarily going to be an immediate source of gasoline. Since we were nearing 3/4 of a tank and knew we'd be driving through some harder-hit areas, we decided to fill up at a station there we saw with a line. The tanks were full, alright, but the station was in an area that had lost power and everyone was waiting for a manager to show up to reset the pumps, which remained out of service from the power outage! We waited in the heat for about thirty minutes for him to show up, and then we got our gas. Lesson Learned #3: Don't forget that the status of electrical power will affect whether you can refuel as you drive back.

Since traffic was getting heavy and I wanted to keep moving, I used my back-road strategy again starting somewhere south of Diboll. This took us through areas of Liberty County that saw Category 1 winds. Although I recall hearing that most roads were open in the area I wanted to travel through, we did run into one road closure. Overall, though, considering the number of fallen trees and downed power lines, I'd say a lot of road clearing had gotten done in a very short amount of time.

This area was still without power, and many structures were damaged, the most severe we saw being similar to the damaged house pictured, which is actually one my brother took near Meridian, Mississippi after Katrina. That area, as far north as Interstate 20, had seen Category 1 winds as well.

We made it down to US 90, which had recently been improved to freeway standards, and drove home the rest of the way uneventfully.

The only problem we had upon our return was that we had one nasty refrigerator waiting for us at home. Lesson Learned #4: Chuck it before you leave.

A Civilized Affair

If there is one benefit of having set this narrative aside for so long, it is that I have since had the chance to compare notes with some fellow Houstonians on various aspects of the evacuation. I am rather introverted and have plenty of other things to talk about, but I do recall discussing the evacuation at length with at least four other people since then: a coworker who evacuated to Austin (10 hours by country roads), an acquaintance who used US 59, a friend who evacuated to Canton, and a barmaid who took US 290 to Austin. Everyone agreed that this was a remarkably civilized affair considering the amount of stress everyone was under, the heat, and the horrendously slow pace. Contrary to what one might expect based on the media chorus, no one I spoke to complained about the the job done by the government. It seems that people generally understood this to be an unprecedented event in its scale.

I love Houston, but I am not really a particularly civic-minded person. Nevertheless, I recall thinking about how orderly the evacuation was at one point that day and being very proud of my city.

Earlier Posts

I hope you enjoyed, if not this narrative, at least the pictures of the hurricane lilies!

For those curious about what the Great Evacuation of '05 was like, here are links to my earlier posts on the subject.

Five-Day Cone: "It's still a wee bit early to panic, but ...."
NOT a Frabjous Day: I have decided to evacuate.
The Great Evacuation of '05 -- Part I
The Great Evacuation of '05 -- Part II

-- CAV

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