Don’t Get Caught Unprepared!Taylor Abegg
The Better Business Bureau recently published an article regarding their partnership with FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security in an effort to help families prepare for possible terrorist attack strikes, or natural disasters.
“Disasters Happen. Prepare Now. Learn How.”, this year’s theme for National Preparedness Month. National Preparedness Month provides an opportunity to remind everyone to prepare themselves and their families now, and throughout the year.
Encouraging awareness is an important goal, but unfortunately, many families will put off properly preparing till it’s too late, assuming such emergencies would never happen to them. My son and I had an opportunity to learn firsthand what it would be like to face a major natural disaster totally unprepared.
On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina, one of the most devastating category 5 hurricanes in U.S. history hit the coast of Louisiana. Its 175 mph winds and resulting flooding was the cause of over 1,200 fatalities and created $125 billion in damage.
My son and I had an extraordinary learning experience during Katrina in that we were in the New Orleans area when the hurricane hit. We had made travel plans several weeks before the hurricane formed and intended on attending a real estate auction while there.
We’ve all heard the expression, “You never know how much someone means to you until they’re gone”. There’s also a variation, “You don’t know how much it means to you until it’s taken away”. A simple example of this is one’s health. It may be taken for granted until it’s taken away when one is very ill.
My son and I had this type of experience in that we are very well prepared at home but we were more than a thousand miles away from our home and had to deal with Katrina totally without the security of our food storage or emergency preps. As a result, we learned many valuable lessons that required first-hand experience to truly understand the magnitude of the situation.
It all started Monday morning, August 29th. We woke up early and immediately turned on the TV to get the latest on Katrina. It was really pretty scary. Katrina had developed into a category 5 hurricane and was just beginning to pound New Orleans – right where we had just escaped from just a day and a half earlier. (We were able to evacuate New Orleans and moved north to Meridian, MS)
There was a light rain outside but what really caught our eye was the way the clouds were moving. I have never seen clouds like that before. They were swirling around so fast, twisting sometimes in smaller circles inside of larger ones and coming closer to the ground than I had expected.
We were still determined to take care of business and planned on attending an auction that morning. On our way to the courthouse, we felt impressed to fill our tank – just in case. We still didn’t think we would be affected much by Katrina. We assumed it would die out or go off in another direction.
We hadn’t been at the courthouse more than an hour when they told us to evacuate, that the hurricane was headed right for us. I feel kind of stupid saying this now, but we were really kind of excited. We thought this was going to be just a fun adventure. Having never experienced a hurricane before, we were anxious to see what it would be like. I remember laughing as we ran to our car because it was raining so hard, it seriously felt like buckets of warm water were being poured on us.
We drove back to our hotel and turned on the TV. We were told that an area wide curfew would go into effect at noon. I looked at my watch and realized we had only about 30 minutes before the curfew and we had no food, water or supplies of any kind.
We decided to try and find a place to buy some food and water before it was too late. As soon as we left the hotel, all the power went out in the entire area. All the stores were closed. We could not find a single place to purchase anything.
As we were returning to our hotel, I noticed a gas station with several cars parked out front. It looked like there were people inside the little mini mart and I could see that the door was open. We immediately pulled in and I ran inside to find several people grabbing up everything they could. You had to have cash since the power was off so credit cards wouldn’t work.
I was immediately struck with the negative, dark side of not being prepared. In times of need, you might think you would want to help and assist everyone possible, but that’s not what I felt. I wasn’t the least bit concerned about anyone else but me and mine. The thought of sharing with others was the last thing on my mind. It’s terrible to say but I was ready to even get physical if necessary to get what we needed. I never want to experience that feeling again – feeling desperate enough that you would consider almost anything to keep from going without.
I can’t imagine how traumatic and emotionally devastating it would be if we had been in a similar situation with small children and had already gone a day or two without food. You can easily see how people would lie, cheat, steal, fight or even take someone’s life to keep their own family from starving to death. What a grotesque and depressing scenario to consider.
So, back to the chaos in the gas station’s mini mart. They had one of those little food bars with potato logs and fried chicken, etc. I bought everything I could (there wasn’t much left) along with several bottles of water and Gatorade. I luckily had enough cash in my pocket to cover the cost. After I paid for the food, we headed back to the hotel and rationed out the food not knowing how long it would be before we could get more.
After rationing out our food, we were left to sit and wait for the hurricane to hit. Without power, there was little else to do other than read. We sat in a dimly lit room, illuminated by a single window, waiting for Katrina to engulf us. We would read a line or two and then look out the window, waiting and watching for the unknown.
We finally couldn’t take it any longer. We wanted to really experience Katrina! So we got in our car and pulled out into an open area of the hotel parking lot and parked right in the middle of it all. We wanted to see what it felt like (crazy, I know). At least in the car we could turn on the radio and hear what was going on.
The winds started really picking up, approaching 100 mph. It was really a rush to feel the car shake and see the trees whipping back and forth. We even took turns jumping out of the car and trying to stand in the storm – it was really wild!
Then things started getting worse. We saw trees uprooted. We saw part of the roof of the hotel next to us blow off. We saw windows shatter. We saw pieces of metal go flying through the air and one of them go right through a parked car. We saw billboards and signs rip apart and fly through the air. Branches from trees and debris were flying everywhere. It got pretty spooky!
The only radio channel we could get was a small local station and they kept fading in and out. One thing I never knew, hurricanes set off multiple small tornadoes as they rip through an area. The radio station kept reporting all these tornadoes being set off all around us.
We were determined to ride it out and stayed in the car for several hours until the main part of the hurricane had passed over us. Our curiosity then got the best of us and we wanted to see the damage that was done around us, so we started driving around. It was really eerie because we were the only people out and about. I guess everyone else was smart and stayed indoors (actually, the curfew was still in effect and I guess we were breaking the law).
The damage was simply unbelievable! Very few buildings or homes were unaffected. Debris was everywhere which made it difficult to move about. We quickly realized it was going to take some time to bring things back to normal. We knew we would be without power for many days. We also knew we didn’t have enough food and water to wait for things to return to normal.
We then made a decision that led us to several miracles. We decided to try and drive to Jackson Mississippi, a town about 60 miles west of Meridian, where we hoped to get some supplies to help us survive. It was about 5:00 PM when we took off, once again, the only ones on the road. When we got on the highway we wished we had a 4X4. There were trees and debris all over the road. This made for a very eventful drive to Jackson.
So much more happened, including several miracles that made it possible for us to escape the devastation of Katrina. But the greatest blessing was to learn firsthand just how critical it is to be properly prepared. It gives you options. It gives you hope of survival. Those who were unprepared with food and supplies had very few options if any at all and we encountered far too many people who appeared totally without hope.
Taylor Abegg has been in the preparedness industry for more than 35 years helping customers with their needs.