Friday, September 23, 2005


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.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Hurricane Prep 101

The disaster nerds are right: prepare early. Lesson learned this morning when I arrived at Target at 7:45AM, 15 minutes before it opened. Already a mob of 75 people swarmed around the entrance. When the poor employee (presumably he pulled the small straw) opened the door, a mad rush of customers pored in. I wish I had my camera... it was a sight. Overweight Houstonians pushing their way to the carts and running to the water isle. I missed out on the water, but it was okay (I have a Britta and a bathtub). I still managed to get some Dinty Moore stew and some votives. Unfortunately the camping fuel was completely sold out.

Thus begins my next adventure: to Academy Sporting Goods. With only mild shock, I saw the line at Academy stretched to the back of the store - literally. Of course the camping fuel was sold out. It was at this moment I remembered my trusty camping stove takes unleaded, so I drove to the Shell station, bought a 1-gallon gas can, and filled it with premium.

All of this is being finished while Rachel is in Chicago for training. Deloitte - her company - just told everyone from Houston that they are being put on the next flight back to Houston. Rachel called 15 minutes ago to tell me she arrives tonight instead of Friday night.

I may clean up this post when I have more time ... I have an ECON final exam in 2 hours...

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Seriously!? Hurricane Rita?

Note to readers - We didn't intend for our blog to discuss Hurricanes. We have other things to worry about (Final exams this week for Rob). But it looks like this weekend will be quite rainy and trecherous:

Thursday, September 15, 2005

My 5 Hours at Reliant Center

(Rachel) On Saturday I volunteered with the Hurricane Katrina relief efforts at the Astrodome with 10 other people from Deloitte. I was a little apprehensive about doing this because assisting with natural disasters is a new experience for me. However, I knew that thousands of volunteers were needed to run the small community of evacuees, and they needed my help too. Human resources were needed; specifically, people patrolling the buildings, serving foods, data entry, and councilors.

I pulled into the huge parking lot and was escorted by signs and police officers (who confirmed that I was a volunteer and not a spectator). Dozens of volunteers were arriving with me and we were all heading to a big grey building run by the Red Cross. Everything was very organized. They checked my ID, I signed in, and I followed a crowd to a 20 minute orientation. At orientation two rules stuck out in my mind: “do not pick up any children” and “do not take any pictures” (it is their home and you wouldn’t want strangers coming into your home and taking pictures of you). After orientation I joined about 150 people in a line to wait for an assignment. Finally, they sent us all to what they called “distribution.”

We were lead through “Reliant City” (aka Reliant Center) to a large hollow building where people were sleeping, eating, and playing. Beds were set up in rows. Some were occupied by people trying to sleep; others were occupied by mothers and their children.

Finally we came to our assignment. It was an area sectioned off as a makeshift cafeteria. They stationed me at the milk and juice cooler and I was responsible for keeping it well stocked and handing drinks to anyone who asked. I was happy to see that the milk and juice were popular with the cute little kids. They would come up and ask for 3 or 4 at a time and then barely be able to carry them back to their table. I was impressed by the system that Red Cross and Aramark had created. They served two hot meals a day (in 3 hour increments) and they had a variety of snacks and drinks served 24/7. I figured that the dinner would be something simple and bland like meat and potatoes, but to my surprise, they were serving sweet and sour chicken, rice, and steamed vegetables. I stayed until 6:30pm and was replaced by two nice high school girls.

My overall impression was that there are a lot of truly caring people in the US. Volunteers came from all over the US to do what they could for the people displaced by the storm. For me it was a convenient 5 miles away. Red Cross is doing it’s best to provide those in need with food and shelter (and a little spending money). I’m glad that there is someone to pick up the slack and take care of all the people who lost their homes in New Orleans.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Hurricane Katrina's Houston Impact

Just in case family and friends are wondering about the hurricane's impact on Houston. I will briefly state that the impact is quite enormous. We live about 3 miles from the Astrodome complex. Yes, the Astrodome, the Reliant Center, and the George R. Brown Convention Center (all very big buildings) are full, but that's only one part of the story. This is not just a news story about a distant land called New Orleans, but rather it is a story unfolding in our own neighborhood. Rachel and I see the result of the hurricane's destruction with our own eyes. In church this morning (the giant Lakewood church), Pastor Joel Osteen and staff announced, "any evacuees who are here today, please stand up so we can pray for you." In the auditorium of 10,000 - 15,000 people, about 200 people stood up. Next: "please raise your hands if you are missing family." 50 people raised their hands. As one can imagine, it was a very heart-wrenching moment for everyone in the room. Twice today, in our apartment complex, I overheard two separate families talk about loosing their homes. One family - over tears - exclaimed that "Houston is a big, scary place to start over again. I don't know how my children are going to make it in their new schools." 5 hours later another family was more optimistic: "We can make this work. I have family here in Houston. I just need to find a house. I hear Pearland is cheap, but Kingwood would work too. I need to find a job."

Rice University has opened its doors to Houston-area Tulane University students. Furthermore, Rice's Jones School of Management is opening its doors to Tulane MBA students. I may have another 10-20 temporary classmates next week. Update: I do have 20 new classmates from Tulane. Super people!

In our own small world, between Rice, Lakewood Church, and Deloitte & Touche, volunteers in the tens of thousands are donating their time to feed those who no longer have a home. Houston area churches were called upon by the mayor to raise $5 million to feed the hungry for 30 days. These aren't evacuees from Indonesia or Iraq whose images are strewn distantly on CNN and Fox News. These evacuees are the ones Rachel and I see walking down Main Street on our way to Rice, Target, and McDonalds. Backpacks containing their earthly possessions...