Evacuating New Orleans

September 15, 2004

I went outside at 3:20 this morning. Yes, it's pretty crazy to be up that early, but I find myself in the hour when only the crazies are awake from time to time. My mission this morning was to drive to Mandeville and back to secure Velvet Elvis before Hurricane Ivan blows through. Traffic had been ridiculous during the day, so I figured I would go out when it was only me and a few other nuts.


My immediate impression at that hours was of the quiet. The stillness and silence were unreal. Did it just seem that way since a storm was pending? I didn't think so. It was unlike I ever heard it before.

This is the traffic at 3:30 this morning. And those cars aren't moving.

When I got to the interstate, I realized the reason for the silence. There was no distant whisper of tire noise or rumble of eighteen wheelers from the interstate. Yes, at that ungodly hour, there were thousands of cars and trucks sitting idle on I-10, waiting for the traffic to move. I found a radio station taking calls from the people who were stuck. Some had been traveling from New Orleans for nine hours and were only just to Baton Rouge. To make matters worse, most of the gas stations were out of fuel. Talk about a sucky night.

The drive to Mandeville was right from the twilight zone. Traffic on I-12 was bumper to bumper going west, but I had the whole eastbound interstate almost to myself. There's a stretch where the other lane is blocked by trees. That plunged me into darkness, which was startling after forty minutes of headlights in my face.

Mandeville itself was a ghost town. Every gas station was dark. Waffle House was closed. And I sure as heck could have used some coffee at that point. There was no inclement weather yet.

Velvet Elvis all tucked in this morning.

The marina was pleasant. More than pleasant, really. There was a nice, cool breeze coming from the north. The area was quiet as the inside of a cotton jar, except for the gentle clanging of rigging on masts. The water was smooth, looking jet black but reflecting lights. I really enjoyed being alone with my boat and docklines and cleats. It was so peaceful, I am inclined to go out there at 4:00 AM every once in a while, just for the serenity.

After a half hour, it was back on the ghost highway, to join the throngs barreling to the west. The interstate really was packed with as many vehicles as it could hold, but traffic kept moving at a good rate. About 30 miles outside of town, it came to a stop, which I knew was the traffic being backed up from the I-10 jam all the way in Baton Rouge. I hopped the median and took an exit that I had recently passed, to take surface streets home. I think I did okay. It took another hour to get home, but I have to think that the interstate would have been worse.

I have to think that our state can do a better job evacuating New Orleans and the rest of South Louisiana. And just wait until all of those people try to come home. Did you know that the only place in America where I-10 goes to one lane is just after the Mississippi River eastbound in Baton Rouge? Boy, is that going to be a madhouse.