Get Out of Town

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Commentator Chris Rose has prided himself in staying put when New Orleans was hit by past hurricanes. But Katrina convinced him to pack up his family and head out of town. He wishes he'd taken a map.


Commentator Chris Rose has decided and did decide to leave New Orleans, even though he and his family have stuck it out through storms before.


Finding a hotel room in central Louisiana or Mississippi yesterday was like trying to get a table at Emeril's restaurant during Mardi Gras. The difference being that, even if you knew somebody, you couldn't get a room in Shreveport.

I got lucky. My family settled into a no-tell motel in a forgotten part of downtown Vicksburg, a neighborhood teetering between antebellum charm and hopeless decay. Truth is, it called to mind my beloved New Orleans.

My wife, three kids and I first evacuated Saturday morning when Katrina was just a Category 3. We set up shop with my in-laws in Picayune, Mississippi, only an hour from New Orleans but safely above the flood zone. But we woke up Sunday morning to a vicious red blob churning on our TV screen, and the piney woods cottage we were staying in didn't look so good.

We evacuated again. Our two-, four- and six-year-olds clutching their sleeping bags and comfort bears and blindly following us to, well--where? We got on the interstate and started driving north without, of all things, a map of Mississippi, a resource we found was more precious than batteries and bottled water since all the panic began. We headed north in a convoy of cars that spread across every lane of the interstate, an evacuation strategy the authorities call `contra-flow.' Watching all those cars headed so purposely in one direction that was straight out of one of those thrillers about earthquakes or tidal waves or killer hurricanes.

There were tens, maybe hundreds, of thousands of us scattered across Dixie looking for shelter. Talk radio stations, usually reserved for sermonizing on a Sunday afternoon, became hot-lines for callers with driving tips. `OK, y'all, get off 55 before Brookhaven. It's a parking lot all the way to Jackson. Get over to 84 and try cutting north at Natchez.' What a nightmare. Our route took us from New Orleans to Vicksburg through Meridian, and you'd have to look at a map to see how insane that is, which, of course, we didn't have. Many of us have wound up in places we never expected or wanted to be, emotionally as well as physically, I suppose. And now we will wait until they tell us we can come home, and then we're going to go back to New Orleans and start our lives all over with whatever we've got left there. Again, without a map.

MONTAGNE: Commentator Chris Rose is a columnist with the Times-Picayune in New Orleans.

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