Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Now Harvey!
As we prepared for Hurricane Harvey last night, I was reminded of our hurricane excitement, 12 years ago.
In August of 2005, evacuees of Hurricane Katrina filled Houston's Astrodome. I lugged my Quilt and a load of "kid supplies" to the temporary shelter.
I had no idea how I would be able to help.I remember being intimidated when I entered the eerie Astrodome. I found a spot in the sea of cots and tried to create a playful oasis for the children.
Red Cross Shelter
A few days later, I lugged my quilt and supplies to another shelter. A church in Sugar Land had been set up by the Red Cross, to house more hurricane victims. The smaller shelter was more relaxed than the big dome. I gathered children on the quilt for games and stories. I hoped I could also offer the parents a brief break from tending to their anxious or bored children.
I returned another day, but the atmosphere was very different. As I approached the building an anxious evacuee saw me carrying my quilt. "Oh, you can't stay here!" She warned me. "We're evacuating!"
I obviously hadn't been keeping up with the news of Hurricane Rita, which was headed for Houston. Parents began gathering their families outside the building, where buses would soon arrive to carry them, once again to a safer location. I saw the big tree in the yard and spread the quilt.
Songs, Games and Good-byes!
I tried again to give the kids a positive distraction, with puppets and books and games. Parents readied themselves nearby, getting instructions and information about their new evacuation.
When buses pulled up, parents came to get their kids. I discreetly handed bags to moms, with toiletries and a few surprises. I felt bad that I didn't have a bag for every adult and child on each bus.
Evacuating My Mom
When I got home, there was a message on my phone telling me I needed to come pick up my mom.
Her assisted living residence was evacuating to Tyler, Texas. If we didn't get there soon, she would be put on the bus.I raced to get Mom and her best buddy, Tucker. She was fairly giddy about riding out the hurricane with us at the house. Her bag had already been packed.
Preparing for Rita
After hearing the horrific stories about New Orleans, Houston residents took Rita seriously.
As the hurricane headed our way, half of our neighbors packed up and hit the road, while the other half prepared to stay put.
It helped to have decent weather as we boarded up and moved lawn furniture inside.
We decided to sacrifice the beach ball and used a Sharpee to write a message with our phone number.
By late evening, the skies grew dramatic, but there was no rain.
A Positive Sign
The rainbow seemed like a pretty positive sign, even if the predictions were awful.
After filling up bathtubs with water and eating a feast of barbecued chicken, we settled down to games.
We headed to bed, wondering if sleep would be interrupted.
The trees and clouds looked eerie in the morning light, but all was in place... except the beach ball. It was gone. Sadly, we never heard from any "finders".
We hadn't lost power. Our bathtub water wasn't needed. We hadn't even wasted any gas, like some of our dear friends who gave up on evacuating and headed home after hours of standstill traffic. We lucked out... but there were many who didn't fair so well.
Back at the Women's Shelter
In a few days, I was back volunteering at the county shelter where I regularly did programs with kids.
When I arrived at the shelter, I was met with a number of children who had recently moved in, after evacuating from New Orleans. Once again the quilt became a safe and cozy spot for children who had been through so much more than I could ever imagine.
Last night as Hurricane Harvey headed for landfall, we watched the news with somewhat giddy anticipation. I sipped my wine and felt relieved that the eye was far south. I jumped and sometimes laughed, when numerous tornado alerts blasted on the TV. We sort of enjoyed our hurricane party and I feel a little guilty about that, now.
What Did I Learn?
It was odd 12 years ago to volunteer with hurricane victims, then suddenly realize I might become one. I'm glad we didn't become Rita evacuees. Even if we had dealt with more damage and drama, there still would have been no comparison. We had options about staying or leaving. We had a strong levee and cars filled with gas. We had resources and support available... at least I'm guessing that we had more than the people I met at the shelters. Natural disasters affect everyone. But there are so many people who have limited options about how to deal with a sudden disaster. That makes me sad.
I wrote this post yesterday, but woke this morning to the news of Houston flooding. At this point our home is safe, but there are so many homeless in the Houston area!
As soon as roads are safe to travel, I'll take the quilt and head for one of the newly opened hurricane shelters... and see how I can help.
Update #2! After posting this blog, our neighborhood ended up with a mandatory evacuation. My husband and I ended up becoming Harvey Evacuees for 4 nights. We were lucky and our house stayed dry. We're back home and the quilt is making rounds.
For 20+ years children have called it the Magic Quilt. They've danced and pretended all over these colorful squares. I've dragged it to schools, shelters and studios where children have climbed on top to hear Magic Quilt Stories and to act them out.