Thursday, September 4, 2008

Hurricane Gustav Notes

Some semi-organized thoughts now that I'm home:

-Prince gouging is illegal, but that didn't stop a Tobacco Road-like family gas station from charging $4.84 a gallon in Hammond, LA Tuesday with a cop helping to make sure the line of cars didn't get too restless. Pappy walked around with a pistol in his belt, sis pumped gas in a tight T-shirt, two older African-American men pumped gas and a backwoods Elizabeth Ashley sat in a resin lawn chair fanning herself with a file folder and overseeing the cage of chicks for sale.

-At one point, Mayor Nagin announced that Gustav was "the mother of all storms." At a literal level, what does that mean? It sounded like more of the same faux-hip nonsense that Nagin seems to think is one of his strengths, as if New Orleanians like being led by a guy who doesn't think before he speaks, then speaks in slang at its most banal.

-This time, the story was the evacuation and re-vacuation (if such a word exists). We tracked a friend's 10-plus hour trip from New Orleans to Tuscaloosa in a crawl across I-59. Others reported similarly hellish stories:

I am livid with the information we are receiving from the authorities and the media about traffic on I-59. We left our home at 3:45am and didn’t get to Hattiesburg until 1:00pm. The contraflow, which we took, was a joke. It only lasted about 10 miles or so, and was bumper-to-bumper from start to finish.
And authorities and media keep saying how wonderful contraflow is and keep downplaying the reports by drivers that there is serious traffic problems on I-59. It is irresponsible and potentially fatal to families to continue to tell them to evacuate at this time and to tell them that it is safe to go down I-59. People will run out of gas. People will not even be able to outrun the storm at this point.
It is a travesty. They are lying. And I’m tired and angry.

Mississippi also closed I-10 traffic eastbound into Alabama:

The Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) has announced that hurricane evacuees will be unable to enter Alabama on I-10 eastbound due to major delays from the Biloxi-Ocean Springs area to the Mobile Tunnel. Drivers will be diverted north on Mississippi 63 at exit 69.

Evidently, Mississippi was more concerned with preserving traffic in Mobile, Alabama than getting people safely out of Louisiana.

Here's a contraflow evacuation story, and here's its official rebuttal. You'll notice nobody in that story can account for why contraflow efforts - both lanes of the freeway going away from the Gulf - ended just 10 miles into Mississippi, when four lanes had to merge back to two before cars reached points when they could disperse.

-After the storm, someone in rural Louisiana slashed my wife's tires. Country folk can complain about how lawless we city folk are - this sort of talk really goes on in Louisiana - but mean people in New Orleans have reasons for their meanness. Usually bad reasons, but reasons.

-Nagin's obstinacy when it came to re-vacuation really sounded needlessly imperial, doing things his way regardless of what other parish presidents were doing. When everybody opened around Orleans Parish, he had no choice but to let people come into the city because they couldn't be kept out if they could get into Metairie, but he shouldn't have wanted to. The underlying premise of keeping them out was to save the city from its people - that they'd come home and be pissed off at the lack of power or food and go nuts. The fact is, people help each other. They can do more to bring about the reopening of the city because they can open their stores and restaurants, they can help each other clean up, and by occupying their houses, they deter crime. Punishing people who followed the plan and left by not letting them return as quickly as is safely possible makes it less likely that they'll evacuate next time, and it treats everybody who evacuated as under suspicion, someone who'd most likely act out if allowed back in the city.

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