Tips on Evacuating from a Hurricane by Car in Houston
by Donald Ray Burger
Attorney at Law
First off, a disclaimer. As of the time I wrote this piece, I have never evacuated from any city, by car or otherwise. So my advise is untried. However, I have given lots of thought to this problem, and listened to what others have had to say. I am adding the piece to my web page on hurricanes because many people may choose to evacuate Houston if a sufficiently large storm is headed our way. Some thought in advance may help one do this successfully.
Fill your gas tank
First of all, make sure you have a full tank of gas. During Hurricane Katrina (2005), many people left New Orleans for Baton Rouge. A trip that normally takes an hour and a half stretched out to nine hours. Do you know how far your car will get in nine hours of driving at ten miles per hour? Do you want to wait until you are in the middle of an evacuation to find out? No? Then fill your tank with gas.
I also advise that you fill your tank every day during the run up to a hurricane. You never know when the gas stations will run out of gas. It may happen right before the storm hits. And it is for sure that the lines will get longer and longer as the storm nears.
The longer you wait, the more likely the freeways will already be clogged with cars. If you are going to go, earlier is better than later.
Don't use HOV lanes
Avoid HOV lanes. They have concrete barriers on both sides. You can't get off. One car running out of gas spells disaster for those trapped in these blind canyons. This happens regularily.
Going to the bathroom.
This is something the mainstream press doesn't touch. If you are stuck in a car for nine hours of stop and go driving, what are you going to do when nature calls? You must pack containers to go to the bathroom while in your car. This is no joke. Plan for this.
Men have an easier time. But they must still have a container of some sort. And you may have to quickly stop the car and change drivers if "dad" is doing the driving. If the kids are shy, a blanket may be useful. Also, think about what you are going to do with the urine. Just dumping it out the door will not solve everything. Pee smells. The container may have to be reused. Take a ziplock bag so you can keep the odors under control.
Women have a more difficult time, and need to think about what kind of container they will use. Also, do not forget at least one roll of toilet paper. And, once again, you must give thought to how to get rid of the urine once you are finished.
Children present the biggest problem of all. One, they may not be used to going in public. Two, they may not be as practiced at it. They may miss. They may drop the container. Ugh. You have to think about this. There are pads that absorb urine. They are designed for the incontinent. If you didn't get such pads, consider using towels that can be thrown out. Consider the products pet stores sell to neutralize the smell of dog urine on carpet. Consider moist wipes. Have a big supply of newspapers on hand. Also, vinegar neutralizes the smell of urine. Whatever you do, think about this problem.
And speaking of dog urine, give some thought to what you are going to do about your pets who also need to relieve themselves. I don't have any suggestions on the dogs, other than having them go ahead of time. Many dogs can last nine hours. Cat litter can help the cats. Cat litter can also absorb any human misses.
Bring stuff to entertain the kids
Don't forget the computer games, lipstick chargers and ear plugs for the kids. They won't want to listen to your music, and you probably don't want to listen to theirs. Bring books for them to read. And a deck of cards. Whatever. But think about how you will keep them occupied.
Food and drink
You won't want to pull off the road for a snack break. So pack it with you. And don't forget napkins, moist towelettes, sponges and washrags for the inevitable messes. And don't forget food for the pets.
Here is my list of thing to consider if you are evacuating by car. Use it to start your own.
_____ Flashlights (Get a small one that will fit in your glove box and a large one, too.)
_____ Whistle. Your lungs may give out from yelling to be rescued. Also, whistles can be heard better than shouting in strong wind.
_____ Water enough for everyone (including the pets)
_____ Bandanna or handkerchief to wipe rain off your glasses.
_____ Houston street map to figure out alternate routes if water has blocked off your primary route. I recommend Key Map Houston, available at better bookstores.
_____ Good map of Texas to figure out alternate routes. I recommend The Roads of Texas. This great map book shows the back roads you may need.
_____ As many cell phones as you have, all with fully charged batteries.
_____ The extension cords to run the phones off the car cigarette lighter.
_____ Ear phones so you can drive and talk, if you have to.
_____ Extra cash. Stores without electricity (or phones to call in your charges) may be open, but they probably won't take credit cards. Cash will be king.
_____ Vests with safety reflectors like bike riders wear. You will need this if you have to abandon your car at night.
_____ Two cans of Fix a Flat to repair flat tires.
_____ Insect repellant. (If you have to walk the mosquitoes are likely to be bad.)
_____ 550 paracord rope. (If you get stranded you may be able to throw the rope to someone on the bank so they can haul you to safety. Learn to tie a bowline knot so the rope around your waist doesn't pull tight and harm you.)
_____ Flares or light sticks.
_____ Towels to dry yourself off. You know that at some point you will get out of your car to check things out. Drying off once you get back in the car will help make the situation less miserable. Take two towels per person. A hand towel is good for drying hair and face. A bath towel may be needed for major wetness.
_____ Full tank of gas. You don't know how long it may have to last. If you have less than a full tank get to a gas station and fill up.
_____ Transistor radio. Sure you have a car radio, but rising water may kill your car's electrical system or your battery may run dead. You will want to know what is going on.
_____ Books or magazines to read while stuck in traffic.
_____ Pee container for the men.
_____ Pee container for the women.
_____ Cat litter (for spills).
_____ Vinegar (for spills).
_____ Toilet paper.
_____ Paper towels.
_____ Deck of cards.
_____ Computer games for the kids.
_____ Ear plugs for each vehicle occupant.
_____ Small first aid kit.
_____ Leather gloves.
_____ Cap with a bill to help keep the rain out of your eyes.
_____ Rain jacket.
_____ Large Zip-Lock bag to put wallet in if you have to wade in water.
_____ Wind-proof umbrella.
_____ Extra pairs of socks. Dry feet are a blessing.
_____ Shoes that you can get wet.
_____ Swiss army knife.
_____ Apples, oranges, carrots, etc., for snacks.
_____ Meal replacement bars.
_____ Something to drink--try for stuff that doesn't make you have to go to the bathroom.
_____ Can opener.
_____ Pet food.
_____ Food bowls for pets.
_____ Water bowls for pets.
_____ Pet crates for each pet. If you have to enter a shelter, you may be able to get in with your crated pets. Give this serious thought.
_____ Sun glasses (we can hope)
_____ Butane lighter.
_____ Get a fanny pack or back pack to haul essential items if you have to leave the car.
_____ Thirty gallon or larger trash sacks. Cut a hole in the end and you have a poncho. Use it as is to keep stuff relatively dry if you have to leave your car.
_____ Signal mirror. If you have to be rescued at night this could come in handy. Camping supply departments sell cheap ones.