As the 24-hour news stations are playing non-stop feed of the flooding in Texas due to Hurricane Harvey, I see more and more people taking to social media — all asking the same question: They knew the storm was coming, why didn’t they leave?
It seems, on the surface, a valid point. It’s simple, right? I mean, with technology today we have all kinds of radar and weather mapping equipment that can tell us not only where a storm is likely to hit, but how big it will be, potential wind speeds, estimated precipitation levels — you name it.
They knew where it was headed, they knew the potential destruction it could cause, why on Earth would they stay?
As anti-climatic as it may seem, for a lot of people the answer is just as simple as the question: they couldn’t.
Now, I don’t claim to know exactly what it is they’re going through, but still, I think I can probably relate better than most. Although I never lived in Texas, I did use to live somewhere else — a place all too familiar with big storms: New Orleans.
To me, New Orleans is my second home. I may have grown up in Michigan but the Big Easy is where I went to college, where I got my first apartment, where I landed my first “real” job.
In short, it’s where I became an adult, whatever that means.
I should be clear from the start that this is not a Katrina story. I had moved away and was living in Pittsburgh by then. But people have short memories and forget that before Katrina there was another hurricane that flooded the city. In fact, there were two — Isadore and Lili — and they hit a week apart.
In September of 2002 Hurricane (then Tropical Storm) Isadore was forming down off the coast of Jamaica and I watched the news with trepidation.
I had never been in a hurricane before and despite my friends and coworkers’ insistence that they were “no big deal,” I couldn’t help but worry. The storm grew quickly and moved across the Gulf of Mexico — now a Category 3 — doing serious damage to the Yucatan Peninsula and killing 19 people.
When it hit the U.S., it was much weaker than had it not stalled over the Yucatan, so I guess in a way we were lucky. Only, when you’re standing in your living room — in water up to your knees — it doesn’t feel very lucky.
The storm surge in the U.S. was later reported to have been only eight or so feet from Isadore but when you live in a city that’s already below sea-level, eight feet is quite a lot.
I moved everything I could up on top of shelves and counters but the damage was extensive. My house was what was known as a “shotgun house,” very typical for the area, and had no second floor. What I couldn’t get up above the water line was lost: furniture, beds, cabinets, carpets, drywall — all destroyed.
Like most people in the city, I was a renter. And while I had renter’s insurance, flood damage wasn’t covered. As the waters receded, my landlord dried the place up as best as he could and I set about replacing my stuff.
A week later, with Hurricane Lili, it happened again.
Like those in Texas, I had advance warning of the storms and plenty of time to get out. So, why didn’t I leave?
Well, like millions of others in the city, I didn’t have a car. I rode the bus or trolley to work, took cabs home at night. Grocery stores were within walking distance, as was pretty much anything else.
Here in S.C., if you don’t have a car, it’s a real hassle to get where you need to go but when you live in a big city, it’s the opposite. Real estate is valuable and people don’t like to waste it on a garage. Whereas parking is a pain in the butt and traffic is a nightmare, public transportation is fast, easy and cheap.
Selling my car when I moved to Nola was one of the first things I did.
OK, no car, but surely there were other ways to leave? Actually, not really.
For one, the buses were gone. The city evacuated the buses long before any official word came down to get out and then they closed the airport.
Taxis, the ones that were left anyway, quadrupled their rates to get people out of the city.
So, we did what you see everyone else who stays on TV do, we battened down the hatches and hoped for the best.
When you turn on the news tonight and you see photos of people in Texas paddling a canoe down a flooded street or being pulled off a rooftop in a helicopter basket, don’t ask why didn’t they leave.
Instead, ask what you can do to help.
Kasie Strickland is a staff writer for The Sentinel-Progress and can be reached at email@example.com. Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not necessarily represent the newspaper’s opinion.