Lessons from Isaac

by Nola

Isaac is, for the most part, on the books for New Orleans. After Gustav, we fine-tuned our hurricane preparedness plan and went into Isaac with hardly a thought of evacuating. We made sure the generator was working and had gas; we readied the window unit. We grocery-shopped for food for three days and stock-piled water. We filled our cars with gas and parked one in a raised, covered parking garage. We shuttered our windows and filled a tub with water (in case water pressure got so low it was needed to help flush the toilet). Then we hunkered down (or, as the news tell me it’s called now, “sheltered in place”) and we waited for the storm to hit.

Then we lost electricity. And within 30 minutes, we had the window unit and refrigerator humming back to life. We then settled in to a long sleepless night, listening to bumps in the night as small limbs fell off our oak tree and transformers blew.

In the morning, we patched a damaged, leaky roof (borrowing a ladder from a neighbor); checked and “triaged” my evacuated neighbor’s house. And generally stayed connected via Facebook and Twitter. And massaged stressed nerves.

So what are the lessons of Isaac?

1. Losing electricity WILL happen. Be ready. And be ready for it to last for days. In my case, during Gustav, we purchased a generator and a window unit. Those have already paid for themselves in saved hotel bills.

2. Having good neighbors is critical to a successful Sheltering in Place. You will need them; they will need you. Why go it alone when the folks in the house next door are doing just what you are doing and neither can predict which will be damaged in a way that the other can be of service. I’ll think long and hard about ever leaving my small house if for no other reason than losing the great community of neighbors we have among us. It’s special and much appreciated.

3. Go heavy on the food and fuel. There’s really no such thing as too much of either. And if the store closures/messy streets/lack of electricity/curfew situation is such that you cannot get replenishments for days, you will want to have more than enough. Nothing worse than wasting gas looking for gas. And all salty snacks with no sweets? Bad planning.

4. Bring your patience; you will be rewarded with being able to abate your damages. Hurricanes are slow to come in, hit, then leave. The news wants to hype it from an early point. And the parishes and electric companies always seem to take a painstakingly slow time bringing things back online. And if you are Sheltering in Place, it’s a lot of Not Much Excitement going on. Heck, even if you evacuate, it’s a slow tedious process as you wait to be allowed back home. But if you DID stay, you WILL be doing damage control and clean-up sooner than your evacuees’ counterpart. So appreciate that you have the leg up on this point. They are sitting in a hotel biting nails and worrying; you are wiping water off your floors and keeping worse damage from happening.

Sheltering in Place isn’t for everyone. For me, it’s the right option. I find evacuating more stressful. I hate deciding what things of sentimental/financial value I need to pack. I hate paying the cost of an overpriced hotel whose walls will all too quickly close in on me. I hate that Sun complains that we didn’t pack her right toys. I hate the worry of how long I will be away from my office and CS his shop. I hate worrying about my house and whether it sustained any damage we could be fixing had we stayed.

Staying put, on the other hand, comes with a soundtrack that will scare your pants off. You will fear a fire when a transformer blows; a tree slicing your house in half; floods or trees destroying your car.

I play the odds. And the odds for me have always favored hunkering down. Only once, Katrina, was it the right decision for me to evacuate.

Now I feel we’ve got this Sheltering in Place down pat. It’s no cake walk. But I have zero regret about the plan we made and the path we took. And we’ll pack our supplies up in a few days and cross our fingers we won’t need them again for years to come. But will take comfort in knowing they are on hand if, and when, we next need them.

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