FIRST OFF, I want to thank EVERYONE for their kind words and prayers. It was very moving to see the outpouring of concern for me and my family and all the other people in Rita’s path.
Here’s a short recollection of what we have been up to the last couple of days:
We finally got on the road at about 2:40 Thursday afternoon. We got about 2 miles and then began the very long process of sitting in traffic. We wanted to take the main evacuation route, which was Highway 69. However, the police made us take Highway 105. Although both routes were jam packed, Highway 105 was the worst.
It took us 4 hours to go 17 miles (that actually turned out to be good compared to what we were in for). To save gas, my wife and I turned off the air conditioners, rolled down the windows, and shut off our engines at every opportunity.
After about 5 hours on Highway 105, I noticed a bunch of cars passing us, going back to where we came from, with many of the people pointing in that direction. I stopped a guy and asked him what was going on. He told me that the highway patrol had been turning people back and making them go back to where they came from. This led to mass confusion and a lot of people turned around and headed back to town. What most likely happened is someone tried to continue on Highway 105, but it was blocked off to prevent people from interefering with another evacuation route. That person must have been upset and told someone that he was being turned back. It only takes one person to misunderstand something and the word will spread like wildfire. Several hundred cars turned back due to false information. As for me and my family, we weren’t turning back.
Congestion finally let up once we got to 780 (I think that was the number). We were able to get up to 40 miles per hour. Unfortunately, it didn’t last. When we got to Livingston, traffic came to a standstill. My wife and I were in the right hand lane. I noticed that traffic seemed to move better in the left hand lane. I wanted to move over but didn’t because I thought we were going to have to turn right. Well, after an hour or so of crawling, we found out that we were actually in a gas line that had backed up to the point that people were waiting in the right lane. Once we passed the gas station, things lightened up and we were able to move at a pretty good pace. Then came Highway 59.
Highway 59 was hell. There were cars everwhere. The traffic was so bad that people were running out of gas because they sat there idling. It took us from 7 am Friday morning to 1 pm Friday afternoon to drive 7 miles. I was driving my wife’s Honda, which has manual transmission. After sitting there like that, my left leg was very sore from all the shifting.
I have to say, I have NEVER felt more hopeless than I did sitting there on Highway 59. Our gas was slowly diminishing, our food supplies were limited, there was no place to stay and I was concerned that we were going to have to sit out the hurricane in our cars.
We slowly crawled into Corrigan, TX. Corrigan was a hell hole. There was trash everywhere (which spoke very POORLY of the evacuees) and the air was full of the smell of raw sewage. It was so bad I nearly threw up. I guess when people get frustrated, they turn into animals. We stopped at a little convenience store and filled up a couple of jugs with water. Then we hopped back in our cars and continued towards Lufkin.
We moved slowly through an intersection and suddenly, almost magically, traffic let up. We were able to get up to 40 miles per hour and were able to travel at a really good clip all the way to Lufkin. I was so happy. Forty miles per hour felt like 300 miles per hour.
Once we got to Lufkin, we found a McDonalds and picked up some dinner. After eating dried out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and drinking hot water, McDonalds tasted awesome. Our next focus was to find gas. I called my father-in-law and he looked up on the interet and found out that the Wal Mart in Lufkin was opened and they had gas. So, we left McDonalds and found the Wal Mart. We weren’t the only ones to find Wal Mart. There were 12 lines that were at least 15 to 20 cars deep. We got into a line and prayed that they wouldn’t run out of gas before we filled up. About an hour later, we had gas and were able to continue our journey to Plano.
We reached Plano around midnight. After being up over 40 hours straight, it felt REALLY good to get a nice shower and some sleep.
I’m not sure what shape my house is in. I’ll deal with that later. I did take some “before” pictures before we left so I’ll be able to post some “before” and “after” pictures after I get back home.