Evacuating New Orleans Toward The Path of Hurricane Gustav – 30 August 2008

by Jim on 2013/08/30

Gustav Is Coming

If the average reader is confused by the title of this post, those with any knowledge of Louisiana geography and Hurricane Gustav will be even more perplexed to know that my evacuation from New Orleans for Gustav was into Bayouland.  As I said two days ago, early projections had Gustav making a direct hit on New Orleans, which, flooding aside, would have been worse than Katrina three years before, but that later projections had the eye going a few dozen miles west of New Orleans.  That meant that Gustav was headed straight for my homeland, straight for my family.

Despite the decrease in danger for the city, New Orleans was under a mandatory evacuation and dusk-to-dawn curfew.  I can’t even remember if my homeland was under a mandatory evacuation, but it did have a 15:00 curfew on Saturday 30 August 2008, the day that these pictures were taken, and I knew that if I was going there, this would be the day, as, even with landfall not projected until around dawn on Monday, traveling on Sunday would have been too risky.

I had offers from friends in Texas, Tennessee, and Georgia to ride the storm out at their respective homes, and I was appreciative of that, but I declined all of them.  My parents were not going to leave, and they needed my help, even though they really didn’t say such (it’s not their nature to ask for help) and told me to take whatever offers I was told.  I was very tempted to act on their approval of me taking up one of the offers that I had to ride out the storm far away and in air-conditioning and with friends, but I could not do it.  As morbid as this may sound, the more dangerous that the storm could be, the more I felt the need to be there if my parents were there.  Since I’m neither married nor a father, they’re the most important people in the world to me; I simply would never forgive myself if something terrible happened and I was not there.  Many of my friends in New Orleans initially thought I was crazy for ‘evacuating’ into the path of the storm, but once I explained to them what I just explained to you, they understood.

So, I secured things in my Mid-City crib, packed whatever necessities and valuables that I could into my truck, and I proceeded out of the city on Airline Highway hoping to get on I-310 and cross the river at Destrehan on the Hale Boggs Bridge.  However, a few miles into Metairie, this is the stagnant scene that greeted me.

What do I do?  Do I just wait it out like all of these people?  They are probably going northwest or north, whereas my general trajectory was southwest.  I figured that I’d be able to break from of this madness once I got to I-310, since I’d be one of the few people heading southward there (and then few people going westward once I got to US 90), but I’m just impatient.  Do I abort my attempt to escape via this route?  There is only one other viable option.  Let’s have a look back in the other direction (toward the east) before we make a decision.

Traffic was not really moving.  I finally decided to turn around, head back east a bit so that I could get on the Huey P. Long Bridge and then get on US 90, at least get across the river.  So, I turned around on Airline Highway as you see here.

Yes, that column of traffic is what accumulated behind me in the few minutes that I was pondering this decision!

The Huey P. Long Bridge route – at least the westbound lanes – had very little traffic, adding to the spooky, “you’re on your own” factor that I was hoping to wait to face until I got to St. Charles Parish, but here I go.

I really don’t recall anything about the journey from Bridge City to Boutte (you’re following along on your maps, right?), and that must mean that there were no delays.  It was when I got to Boutte, the southern end of I-310, that things got weird and memorable, and where I took the 40,000th picture with my digital camera that I acquired in July 2005.

Entering The Zone From Which Thousands Are Escaping

Here is where it began to get even more eerie.  The Louisiana State Police were working the intersection of I-310 (the southern end of it) and US Highway 90 in Boutte, as thousands of people from St. Charles Parish, Lafourche Parish, and Terrebonne Parish were escaping northward, most of them presumably to catch I-55 to go into Mississippi or Tennessee or even beyond.  This was the scene that greeted me at the interchange, where I was the first vehicle at the intersection, allowing me to get these views:

This image does not do the scene justice.  As I would soon learn, that column of cars extended for several miles almost all the way to Bayou Des Allemands, and it was bumper-to-bumper at a standstill.  Here I was about to go in the other direction!

I admire police and other first responders who do the dangerous work in times like these.  It was soon our turn to move, and this image is the 40,000th image taken with my first DSLR camera.

I just have to go.  I must do what I must do.  I snapped one more image as my foot came off of the brake pedal.

For the next five or 10 miles, I was about the only vehicle in the westbound lanes of US 90, but, as I said before, I watched a miles-long column of parked cars in the opposing lanes.  I hope you understand why the sight of this – both the choked lanes in the opposite direction and the clear road directly ahead of me – gave me the creeps.  In reality, though, I knew that there was little chance that this experience would be any more dreadful than going to bed and waking up in puddles of my own perspiration for about a week (like happened for Katrina.)  So, it was just going to be an experience, a big inconvenience, and it was, but something told me that I might encounter some of these same evacuees in a certain far-off (relatively) place to which they were evacuating.  As I said before, I felt the obligation to be with the folks, but that’s for the storm itself, the dangerous part, and the preparations; the aftermath of a hurricane is more unpleasant but not as dangerous.  So, I had a contingent escape plan if the path of destruction would allow escape.  Stay tuned for that later.

According to Wikipedia’s entry on Hurricane Gustav in Louisiana, by the next afternoon (Sunday), “1.9 million people had evacuated southern Louisiana, with 200,000 being residents of New Orleans alone, making it the largest evacuation in the history of Louisiana.”  Wow!  Gustav was a Category 4 hurricane in the gulf, but, fortunately, it was a Category 2 by the time it reached land.

Plenty Of Work To Do Right Away

As soon as I got to the homestead about mid-afternoon, I immediately went to work – joined my father who was already working – with the preparations.  There are certain tasks that are obviously much more appropriate for a younger adult to do, and, at this time, I was in very good physical shape, perhaps the best of my life.  There were plenty of windows to board up, and there was also the matter of climbing up ladders and onto the roof to cut tree branches that were too close to the house.  All of this consumed most of the afternoon, though landfall wasn’t expected until Monday morning.  We just didn’t want to risk doing this stuff on Sunday as winds would start to pick up then.

The next month would be dominated by Gustav and then by the enormous Hurricane Ike that followed closely behind it.  This was an intense time, and I have many pictures from that time.  There is a certain sense of being alive that hurricanes bring.  There is beauty in their terror.  Stay tuned for more from the active hurricane season of 2008.  I don’t want to give away too much information now, but there is a reason that there is a number “1” following the word “evacuation” in this post’s URL!



{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Angeline Castilloux August 30, 2013 at 22:16

I did wonder at first why you would choose to go into the path of the storm, but now I understand.

I don’t know about hurricanes bringing a sense of being alive, I just can’t imagine that. But then you live there, so you would know right? It really just makes me glad I live in relative safety.

I have a couple of questions. How often are mandatory evacuations ordered? What strength does a hurricane have to be for an evacuation?


2 Christie Pepper August 31, 2013 at 13:48

Great pictures. I remember Gustav vividly. We never evacuate, because of our jobs we are mandated to stay. Our children have evacuated with family members while we stay here (like during Katrina). I am currently an investigator with the DA’s office and my husband a detective with LPSO, but for Katrina I was just a deputy and had to work the command center. I was one of the lucky ones who worked with the “rank” and kept track of everything going on, and did some minor traffic control in Lafourche. My husband on the other hand was always on the roads and handling any and everything. He was even on the convoys to bring fuel and water to NOPD’s fleet several times.
Storms are always crazy here and of course we worry about our children, but it is something that we chose to do and I’d rather them safe and away with others.
BTW the trooper that you took your 40,000th pic of is Trooper W.Powell. He was a deputy with me at LPSO, but went on to the Troop around when I went on to the DA’s office. Great guy!!


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