with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Evacuating from Hurricane Dennis – On the Run

Trailer packed up and pulling out of Shady Acres Campground in Mobile, Alabama, ahead of Hurricane Dennis, photograph by Lorelle VanFossenWe are now sitting in one of the RV campgrounds that we totally loath, but it serves a purpose for us, several fold, and so we shall stay until the hurricane passes Mobile, Alabama, and then we’ll take two days to return back to our little country-home style campground, surrounded by trees, green grass, birds, raccoons, and mobile homes.

I don’t know how much of the two past days of non-stop activity I can describe here, but I’ll do my best. But to get to the point of what most of you want to know, we are at the Grand Casino in Tunica, Mississippi, near the Mississippi River and less than an hour southwest of Memphis.

Thursday, after two days of discussion about Hurricane Dennis, we decided to wait until Saturday to make our decision. At the time, landfall along the Gulf Coast wavered between Sunday night and Monday afternoon. Time enough, Brent said, to make up our minds.

Friday morning, I got up at my normal 6:30 in the morning and instead of exercising, I went outside in what little cool morning was left and began the process of readying the trailer to move. As I worked, I realized that Brent, who had decided to walk to work that morning so I would have the truck to prepare it for travel, wasn’t up and moving. At 7:30, I came back into the trailer to find him still asleep. I poked him awake and he jumped in the shower and readied himself for work. Since he needs to be at work by eight, I now had to drive him to work.

I got in the truck and started it up, in order to back the truck up closer to the trailer to begin loading some things into it for the move, and the steering made grinding noises. I got out, lifted the hood and opened the steering fluid reservoir and found it almost bone dry. I knew we didn’t have any, so on the way to work, we swung by an auto parts store and got some power steering fluid. Ah, the start of another adventure for the traveling VanFossens.

I got Brent to work by 8:15 and then swung by the hardware store to pick up some rope, back to the campground to start laundry, and by then the sun and humidity was boiling down on me, but the tasks I set out to do that morning were still awaiting me.

In preparation for Tropical Storm Cindy, only a little over a week ago, I’d packed up the majority of the outdoor stuff into the truck and ready to move, but I’d pulled some of it back out and set it up. The plastic chairs and table for the patio and a few odds and ends we used to finish up some repairs and patches on the continually leaking roof, all had to be dissembled and put away. I worked in the heat, sweat pouring off my face, taking apart the plastic shelving units I’d bought months ago to store tools and things off the ground under the fifth wheel section, took off the fifth wheel cover, and pulled out our bikes and swept them for spiders.

Then the phone rang. I jumped into the trailer, my clothing sticking to my body and my hair dripping from sweat in my ears and listened to Brent tell me that he was finishing up and was ready to come home and help.

“But I thought you were going to work all day and we’d decide tomorrow.”

“We’re leaving as soon as we can pack up today.”

Thus, he made the decision. I got in the truck again, no grinding noises now, thank goodness, and drove back to the airport to pick him up and we now had both of us working in the sweating heat to pack up the trailer.

One of the things that worried us the most were the boards we’d had left over from repairing the leaking and water damaged slideout on the trailer. We knew we would need them for the roof still awaiting repairs, but what to do with them during the storm? I finally decided to wrap them on the ground in plastic and robe and tie it all to the large metal T old laundry line posts still remaining at the back of the campsite. I wedged the wood between the pole and the fence and tied it down as securely as possible, trying to force it into a low profile so the wind wouldn’t pick it up. We then delivered all my plants to Charlie and Diane’s home (campground owners) for storage in their garage during the storm, then tackled the inside of the trailer.

I told Brent we had about two hours of work inside and he disagreed. He is usually in charge of the outside and me, the inside, when we move, so I knew and he didn’t. After a fast lunch, over two hours later we were finally ready to move.

That’s when Brent remembered we still had a load of laundry in the dryer up at the campground office. I walked up there with the last of the garbage to dispose of and went inside for the laundry. I turned on the weather channel for noise while folding and was entranced by the site of the Weather Channel reporter standing near Battleship Park alongside Mobile Bay, talking about how Mobile was preparing for the approaching category. Behind him, on the Highway 10 bridge which goes across over 5 miles of water over Mobile Bay, traffic was bumper to bumper. I stared at the screen as he explained that “already people are pouring up from the Florida and East Mobile area heading out of town. Traffic is moving, but barely, as people head east and north to escape the path of this treacherous storm….”

Shit.

We’re right on Highway 10 and the thing we wanted to avoid completely was being stuck in traffic. The horror stories we’ve heard over the past few months about Hurricane Ivan were not so much about the damage from the storm as the 16 to 26 HOURS people sat in almost non-moving traffic, traveling 25 miles in 25 hours. Cars overheating, tires popping, angry and tired people – this is the stuff we DO NOT want to be in with our ancient truck and trailer. As I reached to turn off the television, laundry forgotten, the reporter spoke words that reinforced the terror in my heart.

“The authorities have announced that as of 8AM tomorrow morning, all lanes of Highway 65 will be for northbound traffic only. They are turning around all south bound lanes and opening them up for evacuees. Anyone heading south into the area will be turned around or must take alternate routes.”

I raced back to the trailer in the wet heat and told Brent I was going to take the truck up to the Highway 10 overpass to check the flow of traffic. I told him what I had just seen and he agreed.

“Where’s the laundry?”

“Damn! I’ll pick it up on the way back.”

I jumped in the truck and headed over Highway 10, not a half mile away. In both directions, traffic flowed normally. No slow downs, no stopped cars, just normal traffic. I was furious. I turned on the radio to hear more about the storm and noticed that it was already 4:30. Well, shit, of course the traffic across the bay would be slowed down. It’s freakin’ rush hour traffic. It is ALWAYS slow then. How dare that damn reporter sensationlise the normal flow of rush hour traffic into the beginning of the evacuation!

I drove back, calmly folded up the laundry and headed to the trailer with my report on the media’s bias and sensationalism having succeeded with me. Buggers.

We finished getting the trailer ready, jumped in the shower to have our last “good clean” for a few days, and hooked up. We pulled out at 5:30 that afternoon and headed west on Highway 10.

Our destination? Away.

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