Rachel and I are safe, but thousands of others are not so lucky. Others either ran out of gas in the middle of nowhere, or after spending 5 hours traveling only 5 miles, they gave up and chose to brave the storm back home. Some might die because they chose to follow officials’ warnings to evacuate, only to run out of gas in the 200-mile gridlock.Clever us, we thought we would miss traffic by leaving at 5AM. Not quite, immediately we realized this is the same plan to which everyone else ascribed. Houston was in utter gridlock. On the radio, callers wailed that they had been on the road for 12 hours with hungry children and pets, no bathrooms, no gas, and yet they were still trapped inside the greater Houston area. We heeded the advice of one caller who reported a wide-open back-road to Livingston, via Highway 90 and Highway 146. Unfortunately this was not the case. In fact the back-roads were perhaps the worst place to be. Realizing that 90 and 146 were virtually impenetrable, we changed courses. On a particular stretch of highway, between Dayton and Cleveland, 22 miles took is 12 hours. During that time we listened intently to the radio as the hurricane was changing paths in our direction: “folks in Dayton and Cleveland better get out of there.” Yeah, sure… One radio caller asked a TxDOT official specifically about the traffic standstill and lack of gas in our area. Her response (paraphrase): “We can’t help these people, we told everyone to use only the ‘three main evacuation routes.’ Folks who found their own routes are on their own.”
This is contrary to another of our favorite quotes, from Mayor Bill White: “Folks better be off the roads when the storm hits. Those highways are a death trap." For good measure, here is another great quote, from Governor Rick Perry: “I told everyone to get a full tank of gas two days ago. It’s not my fault that these folks are running out of gas.”
(Texans say “folks” a lot).
After 14 hours on the road, Rachel and I reached Cleveland, TX. We decided to travel northwest through the Sam Houston National Forest. This worked very well, traveling a whole 25 miles before stopping at a standstill 1 mile east of New Waverley (pictured). 1 ½ hours and 1 mile later, we broke through the traffic and headed north on Highway 75. It was at this time that we began to worry about our gas. We had half a tank (still amazing for 15 hours on idle). Traffic ran smoothly up the 75 and east on the 19 until we reached Crockett and Elkhart. Again, there was no gas in sight, and the lines into those towns ran an hour each. Rachel and I were agonizing over the lack of gas. We were now nearly 200 miles from Houston, in the middle of “nowhere, Texas,” and every gas station still had no gas. People were lined up at the stations waiting for the next shipment of gas – which may or may not have come as of this posting. Still we persisted. We couldn’t help but think the worst as we drove. Maybe we would need to pull over to the side of the road; maybe the traffic would be better tomorrow. Maybe we would need to ride out the storm in a church, and wait 5-10 days for the gas stations to be replenished. Rachel and I prayed long and hard.
Entering the city of Palestine was no different. Dozens of cars were camped out at the gas stations, waiting for the next shipment of gas. Low and behold, on the far side of Palestine – next to a station with no gas – stood another … it looked like someone was pumping. I drove up, a man was filling his Sparkletts bottle with gas. “They have gas!?” I exclaimed. The man simply shrugged, “yup.” I did not and could not believe it, not until the dial started to roll. Indeed we had gas; the most precious commodity in the universe to the millions Houstonians trying to evacuate. I called my dad, almost in tears: “We got gas! We’re going to be okay.” Two hours later we rolled into Kaufman, Texas. Rachel’s colleague and friend from UT, Erin Wynne, offered her home to us. 20 hours after setting off, we were hungry, smelly (we turned off the A/C starting at 8:00AM), utterly exhausted, and safe.