Run to Pearl River After Katrina

September 2, 2005

This is a more detailed narrative of our harrowing trip to Pearl River, Louisiana.

After two days of busily gathering supplies, we were set for our trip to Louisiana. We had loaded a Uhaul with a big generator, about 20 cans of gas, and a load of supplies and tools. We left at a little after 3 am for the run to Pearl River. We wanted to give a lot of time to get there because of uncertain gas supplies and road conditions. We had small walkie talkies to communicate between Jeff and I. We were to meet Jay Victory in Birmingham. We waited for him about an hour because we didn't think about the fact that he was on Central time. Also, the van he was driving was vibrating badly. We had to leave it there in Birmingham, transfer supplies to our vehicles and proceed.

Things went smoothly until we got to Meridian, Mississippi. We had decided to go through Jackson because I-59 was said to be closed, and we presumed that even if it were open, we couldnŐt get gas if they had no power.

As we approached Meridian on I20/59 we saw few family/pleasure vehicles. We passed Meridian and headed on toward Jackson. We passed about four convoys of power trucks, one military convoy. Lots of trucks.

About 80 mi from Jackson, the van was low on gas so we stopped at a couple of exits to find that they had no gas. We saw a hospital sign about 30mi out of Jackson and Jeff commented that it would probably be a priority on power and also possibly for gas. We saw a power company convoy exit ahead of us and he commented that they probably knew something we didnŐt. He was right on all counts: they had power, they had gas, the power company trucks knew it - but unfortunately the gas was reserved for the repair teams and emergency vehicles. We went to a large station up the road from that one, but it was out of gas. I talked with a dejected guy sitting next to me in a U-Haul truck similar to ours. I told him we would head on into Jackson to try to find gas, but he said that he would never make it to Jackson because he was already sitting on empty.

We drove on toward Jackson, but the van was getting critically low. Jeff and Jay stopped beside I-20 at a place where we could run to the bushes, and used that as a pretext for opening the back quickly and pulling out a gas container to put a transfusion of gas into the VW.

We drove on into Jackson to find gas stations on the outskirts with 30 or 40 car lines to get gas. Thinking we could do better, we decided to drive on into central Jackson, thinking our chances would be better there. Central Jackson had little active business, seeming old and decayed. The couple of gas stations we found open had long lines. We talked with four guys in a van at a church where we turned around. I asked them if they knew where to find gas. He said they had been in 3 lines, one for an hour and a half, but all ran out before they got any. We drove around and joined a line about 3 blocks long and waited almost two hours. It was extremely hot, and I had no air conditioning. I was concerned about the van overheating, so I kept turning the engine off between our inching forward. Then I was worried about the multiple starts running down the battery. So it was a pretty miserable time. At one point there was an incident where armed police removed a line-breaker from the line. After the better part of two hours of this routine, I was finally directed by the armed police to one of the pumps. I was next after an old pickup truck. An elderly white-haired white man was struggling with the pump so that delayed me. Meanwhile, Jeff got up to the other side of the pump and got his 20 gallon limit. About that time, the guy with the pickup found that he could get no gas and that signaled that the entire station was out. So Jeff got the last bit. The whole atmosphere in sweltering hot Jackson was very uncomfortable - it seemed they needed the armed police at the station.

We drove on down I-55 and made another stop to add gas to criticallylow VW. Feeling that it might be dangerous to open the truck and reveal the row of gas cans, we pulled off the highway and found a secluded spot on a gravel road. We added gas and went to the bushes.

We stopped at Brookhaven because we saw three open stations with gas lines. We thought this would give us enough margin to have gas for generator, saws, etc. We chose the line at the Walmart. We waited from 3 to 7 pm, including the better part of an hour for gas truck to unload Đgiving us the confidence to continue waiting. About 15 cars from the pump, they ran out again so we had wasted not only a lot of time but gas as well.

We drove on down 55 and made another stop on small gravel road to transfuse both vehicles from our gas containers. Now after dark, we made it down to Hammond and joined I12 to the east. Both of us were again very low on fuel so we pulled into a DayŐs Inn parking lot off I12 and added gas again to both vehicles from our precious stock in the truck.

We drove on east on 12 and when we got to the Slidell area it was eerily dark and silent. The Airport Boulevard exit is usually lit up like a Christmas Tree, but was totally dark and silent. We exited on Hwy 11 and made a quick dash up it to 41 and then up Pine street with some sense of danger. We were glad to reach JeffŐs house about 9:30 Atlanta time, and Jeff Moyle was glad to see us. He had been staying at the dark house alone. This was 18 hours for a trip that normally takes less than seven, and 604 miles compared to about 465 on our regular route. We unloaded the truck into the garage and set up the generator on the back patio to get lights. Given the extreme heat of the day and no air conditioning in the van, I really enjoyed a cold shower. I got to bed on the floor at nearly 2am Atlanta time after being up almost 24 hours. Jeff had not gotten any sleep the night before, and I probably didnŐt get more than a couple of hours.

Pearl River Run

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