Ok, so I'm going to break this into separate entries, so I can be detailed, but I don't know how many there will be. Bear with me.
Let's start with a little background so you can understand some of our thought processes. I've lived in the greater Houston area for 10 years now, and never once faced a major storm that actually hit here. I was around for Tropical Storm Allison, but it didn't affect my neighborhood at all - in fact, I had to watch about 2 hours of constant storm coverage to understand what was happening and reconcicle the bright sunshine outside my apartment with the massive flooding 15 minutes up the road.
Dh was living with me just before Hurricane Rita showed up to wreak havoc and prove that Houston's hurricane plans left a bit to be desired. It was about week before our wedding. Initially we hadn't planned to leave at all. But people were so freaked out at the thought of another Cat 5 storm bearing down on a major city that even seasoned hurricane survivors were flipping the fuck out and telling us to get the fuck out of the city. Work closed at noon on Wednesday to allow people time to prepare, and despite having already hit the store for food and water, we decided that since our wedding was out of town, we should be there too. After all, we had no way of knowing whether or not we would suffer damage to the car or what shape the roads would be in and whether or not they'd even be passable. We felt safe enough in our second story concrete block apartment, but when our families urged us, that tipped the scales. We took a nap, then worked for 4 hours to pack and make our apartment ready for our absence and the storm. At midnight, now Thursday, we were ready to go, and the car was loaded and we were tense and anxious, but I was exhausted. I didn't know how I would be able to drive the 4 hours needed to get to San Antonio area and our families. So we thought it would be in our best interest to nap.
So I napped. 4 hours. We loaded the disgruntled cat up in the car and left at 4:30. We had no trouble getting to the highway, we had a straight shot. We got on I-10 and. . . sat there. It took 3 hours to move from our street near the beltway (so, already nearly out of Houston as a starting point) to the next street up. It took over 12 hours to make it to Katy, normally a 20-30 minute drive. I held it together until that point, but then the sun was shining directly in our window, the air conditioning had given out two hours before, the cat was panting and hyperventilating (and he was 13 at the time, already an elderly fellow), we were sweating and had had nothing to eat but canned tuna and nothing to drink but warm water. I let the cat out of his carrier to coax him into drinking some tuna water, and pissed him off by pouring our drinking water on him to cool him off. I had to pee and there was no way to do so, the cat on my lap was even more warm and we were sitting, with the storm still headed towards us (though beginning to make it's eventual shift northward). Our cell phone was low on power and we had no car charger. Our worried parents were continually calling to check in. I was getting nearer and nearer to hysteria, though I'd been perfectly calm until this point. Something startled the cat and he raced up my arm to get to the backseat where he could hide - digging his back claws into my upper arm for traction. Between the pain and the paranoia, I lost it and in that moment, truly believed we were going to die there. The cat would die from heat stroke and it would be all my fault, my fiance would die and I would die, and we were going to die on I-10 because we wanted to leave for our stupid wedding.
I sobbed hysterically for nearly an hour while my darling husband (almost, anyway) tried to drive and soothe me. My mother suggested we get out and join the contraflow, but it would have taken three hours and we were low on gas as it was. We believed that if we could just make it to Brookshire, we'd end up ok, because the highway goes from 4 lanes to 2 in Brookshire and then traffic would be moving. When we got there, we saw the gas station all lit up and being under a quarter of a tank, decided to go. Only after waiting in line for an hour and depleting most of what was left in the tank did we find out that there was no gas. I sobbed again and we pulled over after a bridge, in the glow of a traffic light to rest. And at that moment, the battery died. Then the cell phone died.
My husband and cat and I were stranded on the side of a road with no way to get a jump or gas or call our families. I finally gave in and slept for a few hours while my husband tried to flag down a car to jump us. We hoped to make it to the next town up and try to get a room, using the money we'd saved for our 'honeymoon' - there was no room available in Brookshire. I finally had to pee, and my husband shielded me with a blanket while I squatted down in humiliation a few feet away from the car, in full view from the headlights of other cars passing us. I was calm again, though we had no way of knowing whether the storm was still coming, I was hopeful that someone would not leave us on the side of the road, and we'd heard rumors of refueling trucks making their way along I-10. Around midnight, a nice family pulled over and let us use their cell phone and I called my dad with a scheme - he could get gas and bring it to us - even 5 gallons would have gotten us most of the way home. I had it all laid out - if he drove up to Austin, then took 290 out, then took the beltway, he could get on I-10 and to Brookshire - couldn't miss us then. I relayed it to him, but then the family had to go, so I had no idea if he would come or not. I was desparate, and we were stuck. It hadn't occured to me at the time that he had no gas containers or any liklihood of finding any at midnight in the sleepy little town he lives in. He did try to trace the route, but got no further before luck intervened.
Having turned off our cell phone allowed for just enough juice to place a couple of calls around three am, and we got hold of DH's brother who had stayed in Houston. He gave us a couple of people closer to us to try calling, but when we had no answer, he and his roommate got their extra gas, loaded up and came to rescue us. We smelled horrible at this point - the cat had peed and pooped in his carrier, poor thing, and we reeked of sweat and fear and tuna. We didn't care. It was such a relief to have help. They got us started, but even better, they gave us gas to get back and also a backroad into Houston, which we couldn't have found on our own.
We arrived back at our apartment 26 hours after leaving. We threw the smelly carrier on the porch and took showers while we each updated our families. We slept through the non-event of Hurricane Rita (our apartment got a sprinkling of rain) and gassed up the following night, hit up a store the next day to round out our woeful rations.
I still have the scars from the cat, and three years later, it's difficult to remember the trauma without scorn or laughter from our friends. We were never able to fully convey the hallucinations of the heat or the pervasive fear that lasted us through so much of the trip. The hours of worriedly watching the gas tank get lower and lower on fuel, knowing we couldn't get more. Sitting there, foot on brake, inching along. The sweat and heat and promise of showers and food whenever we got home. The worry of our families and the fear we tried to ignore until I broke down from pain and fear.
We have laughed about it. We point out our spot every trip home. I laugh at DH about flashing his penis inadvertently at a long line of cars when he jumped out to pee at one point. He laughs at my hysteria, and three years later I can, too. To a degree, but he knows as I do that I have never in my life felt so certain that death was looming. We both count that 'evacuation' as one of the worst events of our life.
Ever since, we've kept at least minimal amounts of supplies, quickly stocking up whenever a storm threatens too closely- Humberto a year ago, Eduoard weeks ago. Of course, being one of the handful of Jericho fanatics out there, our list has gotten more refined over the years. We stocked up for Eduoard, less out of concern over that than concern that our hurricane kit was barely adequate. So we had plenty of batteries, water, canned/non-perishable food when it became clear on Thursday that Ike had decided it wanted to play chicken after all.
Thursday is up next.