From the 22 hour drive to Conroe, approximately 66 miles, where we slept
either on top of the 4Runner or in the driver's seat of the Matrix for an hour
and a half before proceeding for another 4 hours, or 32 miles, to Huntsville.
In Huntsville we spent the day in the Wal-Mart parking lot with about 5,000
other vehicles waiting for fuel, food and water. After waiting an hour to
order at the only place open, Taco Bell, Gary then waited 45 minutes to pick
up the order. We watched while three different tankers filled the Wal-Mart
tanks, but never got to the front of the lines. Also never found a restroom
or water. Finally found a local who directed us 15 miles east of town to
Trinity where we waited in line an hour for gas and drove north to Arlington,
arriving about 11 pm on Friday. As we left the station the wind had arrived,
and we were blown around a bit, but were fortunately able to outrun the storm.
We left home Thursday morning at 5 am, 7 hours before our mandatory evacuation
order, with full fuel tanks and plenty of supplies for the 285 mile, normally
5 hour trip. Just in case you're interested, a 1986 Toyota 4Runner with
240,000 miles will idle for 26 hours and only use half a tank of gas (about 7
1/2 gallons) and a 2005 Toyota Corolla Matrix will idle 26 hours, about 25%
with the ac running to keep the cats alive, and use 3/4 of a tank, also about
7 1/2 gallons. It is important that you know before you start how long your
car will idle. I didn't know this.
We never went fast enough to register on the speedometer. I had two bathroom
"stops"; once when I climbed over the freeway barricade to a filling station
that was out of fuel, but still open at 9 a.m., and again at 3:30 the next
morning when we found a place to "sleep" in Conroe. I won't describe that
one. Fortunately, when you spend the day in a non-moving vehicle in 100 pulse
degree temperatures with less water than you should have, you sweat so much
you don't need bathrooms as much as normal. It is, however, important to have
something to wipe the sweat out of your eyes.
We never saw any government agencies distributing anything until about 1 a.m.,
when Houston city buses arrived on the service roads at about the Woodlands.
The service roads there are about 30 yards from the highway, and unless you
are in the right hand lane you can't see them. The drivers would lean on the
busses with the water in their hands, but made no effort to get it to the
people on the highway. By this time we were passing families who had pulled
over and were sleeping on the asphalt, no bedding, no pillows, just bodies on
hot pavement, grandmothers, moms, dads, babies, dogs and cats. Burned out
cars, cars with flats, cars out of fuel, cars over heated.
Exits were barricaded which prevented not only refueling, but also bathroom
stops. At least one elderly lady I know of died of heat exhaustion in the
backseat while her daughter desperately dialed 911 on her cell phone.
Perhaps my experience was isolated, but I never saw any assistance from the
Texas Department of Transportation, Harris County, or the City of Houston
(other than the busses). Individuals who lived in the small cities we passed
through, however, generously came out onto the freeway with water they
purchased and handed it into the cars, probably saving lives. God bless
By totally ignoring all government instructions regarding our return, we
managed to make it home in only 10 hours by taking only back roads and
returning when we chose. We also returned with four five-gallon gas cans, and
stopped when our fuel tanks got to half full and refueled.
Our government, once again, has lied. We will probably never evacuate again,
and if we do, we will make our own way. We followed every instruction we were
given. We listened all day and all night Thursday to the radio and all the
next day while the Governor of Texas, the Mayor of Houston, and a Harris
County Judge patted themselves on the back about how well the evacuation was
going. I guess you had to be there.
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