The third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina has just passed, and now another huge storm — Gustav — is bearing down on the Gulf Coast and New Orleans, with forecasts of it hitting the area late Monday. Predicting a hurricane’s path is a very imperfect science, so it’s possible the city may dodge the bullet (as it had so many times in the past—before Katrina). But Katrina taught us that it’s far better to be safe than sorry.
New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin called Gustav “the storm of the century” and ordered a mandatory evacuation of the city today. Thousands of people are streaming out of the region as I write this. Things seem to be proceeding much more smoothly this time than in 2005, with government agencies working together to provide transportation options for just about everybody. Trains and buses are ferrying evacuees to Alexandria, Shreveport, and other northern Louisiana locations—and this time people can take their pets. To deter looting, the National Guard plans on sending a lot more troops into the city this time around. As an incentive to get everyone to leave, New Orleans is not providing any “shelters of last resort” (like the Convention Center or the Superdome), which seeing what happened at those places after Katrina might be a good thing. Even though the levees have been repaired and “shored up” since Katrina, they are still not designed to withstand more than a Category 3 hurricane; Gustav could end up as a Category 5.
The A.D. characters are all preparing for the storm in their own ways. Leo & Michelle left New Orleans for Little Rock, Arkansas, late last night. They have relatives in the area in case they can’t return directly after the hurricane. Denise’s mom and niece still live in Baton Rouge; now that Denise has a car, she has a lot more options in terms of evacuating. Hamid lives in the suburb of Metairie, and after his experience with Katrina has no desire to ride out the storm in his store again. This time, he’ll take his family to shelter together. Finally, Kevin is safely ensconced in his college dorm in Ohio; his father was planning a Katrina memorial with his church, but obviously will be overseeing the community’s safe evacuation.
The Doctor, however, in typical high spirits, said he would ignore the mayor’s mandatory evacuation, like “one-third of the rest of the population will do. A mandatory evacuation is not a forced evacuation. No way they can pry me out of the Quarter.” (Remember, even after Katrina, the French Quarter suffered minimal flooding. High ground is a wonderful thing!) In preparation for the storm, the Doctor has stocked up on dog food and water. He also took out a “wad of cash” and loaded his gun, which he got after Katrina.
So to my relief everyone seems to be preparing for the new storm as best they can. As for me, the Red Cross contacted me yesterday, asking about my availability for another Gulf Coast deployment. This time around, with a young baby and a much busier schedule—including a deadline for finishing the book portion of A.D.—I don’t think I can spare the two-week commitment. It’s painful to think I can’t offer my help this time, but I know that thousands of other volunteers are ready and willing, with many already on their way to the Gulf Coast.