When I first heard on Sunday (Aug. 26) that then Tropical Storm Isaac was definitely heading my way, I cringed. There is an uncertainty that comes with this kind of storm, Isaac was predicted to be a category 1 or 2, which is very different from a cat 5 like Hurricane Katrina. In a big storm, you know there will be destruction; in smaller storm, destruction is certain but it’s harder to predict who will be affected.
I did what all Louisianans do, hope the sucker doesn’t gain in strength and went to get gas and other hurricane necessities. It was amazing how days from landfall, the lines at gas stations were already starting. I only had to wait about 10 minutes — if I had gone to tank up the next day, however, I would have been in a line around the block.
A lot of my stress early on was not survival related. A) I had to postpone six oral history interviews for my project. B) I had finally hit the age where my parents were evacuating from their house to mine and I had to make sure my home was hurricane ready. This meant braving the crowd at the grocery store and buying the essentials: jugs of water, batteries, snack food, bread, apples, peanut butter and, of course, beer.
I also cleaned my place to make room for the three guests and extra dog: rounding up flashlights and candles, bringing patio furniture inside and freezing a pot of water in the freezer in case of a power outage. (Just the basics that all good hurricane hostesses should know.)
Isaac also caused worry because no one quite knew where he was going. I don’t recall ever seeing a storm before that waffled so much. It’s because he wasn’t strong enough to have an unwavering course. Bigger storms, like Katrina, have a plan.
I know it seems silly to keep bringing up Katrina, but it’s hard not to, considering the date. Both Isaac and Katrina decided to make appearances on August 29. I think that Louisianans were concerned about this low category storm because of the eerily similar paths and anniversary.
When the storm, ever so slowly, began to creep into Louisiana on Tuesday I watched the clouds. They were unmistakably tropical storm clouds, fast moving, grey, covering the entire sky and have a certain energy that make dogs crazy from the low pressure. When you see them encroaching it is oddly calm and the wait can make you stir crazy.
The best and worst thing about hurricanes is that you can watch them coming. Obviously, being able to have time to pack and evacuate is a luxury. But, when you see the first band of rain appear on the radar like a tentacle whipping toward the coast, you just have to sit and watch it cross over your town. It feels like an alien space ship from the movies is menacing above.
Before the storm hits, businesses stay open as long as they can, trying to sell goods before the power goes out, some ice cream shops even give their perishables away for free. Everyone tries to be business as usual until conditions change.
On Wednesday, I had a full house and the storm was at its worst. We were lucky, there was no real damage to the part of Baton Rouge where we were weathering it. But the power was out. Sitting in the dark, getting cabin fever also feels very Hollywood, like the scenes they montage through in post-apocalyptic movies. In reality, time feels so slow. Cell phones, however, make those less-affected and inland thankful. I was glued to Twitter, reading updates about our coastal comrades braving extreme conditions. Though, in stronger storms, like Katrina, you can forget about the comfort of cell phones.
I also feared for my hometown in the New Orleans area’s Northshore, where there was a nine foot storm surge. Many neighbors had flooded but somehow my parents’ home was spared.
My Hurricane Isaac experience was a fortunate one in Baton Rouge. And Louisianans know to never complain about minor hiccups like lost power and a tree in the road, because other cities are hit harder. You welcome your Louisiana neighbors into your town with open arms.
Being courteous in the long lines, letting friends know when you have power and a place for them to cool off, offering your freezer, helping clear the street of branches and calling your loved ones are as much a part of being in a hurricane as wind or rising water.