Hurricane Gustav Blog, Day 2

September 6, 2008

Last night’s weather forecast still had Gustav heading directly for the mouth of the river and us; the worst combination possible. The news also showed our governor’s daily hurricane briefing. He has to be more cautious than us private citizens. It takes time to put a state’s disaster preparedness plan into action. It has to start almost a week before the predicted landfall. So, at that news conference, he declared a state emergency, which allows him to activate the National Guard.

Those were the only two things I watched about the hurricane last night. I decided I have to limit the amount of hurricane news I watch. We are far away from landfall and many things could change. But the media is treating this as a ratings booster. They fill the time between advisories from the national weather center by speculating on what could happen. Of course, the worse the scenario, the better the ratings. A nonstop diet of that kind of news reporting can unnecessarily debilitate a person.

Had a sleepless night again. Woke up from a deep sleep at 3 and then couldn’t stop thinking about what we would have to do if Gustav hit New Orleans. Before Katrina, my frame of reference was Hurricane Betsey, which hit us in 1965. It was a bad one but the effects were not as bad as Katrina. First of all, flood prone areas were uninhabited back then. They have since been filled and covered with homes. Second, we had more coastline to act as a speed bump. So, even though it was a strong hurricane, there was no call for evacuation and most of the city was up and running within a week. When Hurricane Katrina was predicted, everyone in New Orleans recalled that experience when they were preparing to evacuate. Most of us took a couple of days of clothing and expected to be home even sooner.

Katrina changed the way we think. Now, even for a smaller storm, we remember breached levees, extensive flooding, long periods of evacuation, and even longer periods without gas, electricity, and running water when we returned. Now when a hurricane is predicted, we use Katrina instead of Betsey as a yardstick, that’s what causes me and other New Orleanians to loose sleep the days before a hurricane.

However, this morning, the news has changed. Gustav took an unexpected jog to the south. If nothing else, that is going to delay U. S. landfall by 24 - 36 hours. That turn has affected where the models predict landfall to be. Most are predicting a path to the west of New Orleans. New Orleans is still in caution mode, though. The eastern side of a hurricane is the most ferocious.

Today’s preparations at the store are based on that news. It looks like we will be able to stay open through the weekend. Last night, I thought we would have to close on Saturday to allow all of my employees to start their evacuation. We are still instructing out vendors to hold up on shipment of early buys for next week. On the brighter side, my San Diego trip may still be a go. I am waiting on the noon weather report to make my final decision. My heart is lighter but I empathize with the poor souls who are still in the hurricane’s direct path.

Yours in confused retailing, Bruce