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Hurricane Gustav Blog, Day 1

August 27, 2008

As you can imagine, after surviving Hurricane Katrina, hurricane season is not a pleasant time for us storm prone residents. I thought I would start a diary of my experiences with the hopes that my last entry will be, “Thank goodness, we are all okay!” There is a chance I will not get to that point, but here goes.

The first mention I heard of Gustav was this past Monday. The evening news was winding down coverage of Fay and briefly mentioned there was another disturbance forming in the Caribbean. Not much more than that but enough to raise everyone’s red flags. Last year all of the storms that started there kept close to South America and ended up on the eastern coast of Mexico. I had hopes this would follow the same path.

The Tuesday morning news was not encouraging. The cone of uncertainty was somewhere between Florida’s panhandle and Texas’s eastern coast. However, one of the more reliable models favored a southerly path that would miss Louisiana. That one was the one I chose to believe as I left for work. When I got to work, I could tell they had concerns, which were relieved when I told them about the more southerly path.

Last night’s news had gone from cautiously optimistic to downright pessimistic. The cone of uncertainty had narrowed and the average predicted path showed the storm not far off the Louisiana coast by Sunday evening. The storm’s path is easier to predict that its ferocity. In fact, some storms have come ashore classified as a two or three but are rerated a few days later to a higher force. The prediction last night was for a Gustav to be a three by Sunday night. But after it had been over so much warm water, it would not be unexpected for it to become a 5, the highest and most severe hurricane can be.

The program then cut to a live press conference our governor was holding. To put this in perspective, you have to know that our previous governor did not react to Katrina this early. So, to hear that transportation, medevac, storm shelters, and a myriad of other services were being activated, was reassuring and frightening. Reassuring because it looked like the state could cope with the storm better than they handled Katrina, but frightening because by this call to action, our governor was confirming he thought the storm was going to hit us.

You do not sleep well when you are under a strain like this. All sorts of thoughts run through your mind. Should I evacuate even though I had put in a whole house generator after Katrina? Would my store be damaged? If it is, the cost to repair it would be so much more since our deductible had been raised more than 100 times what it as before Katrina. Should I cancel the trip? What were my employees going to do? This is just the tip of the iceberg of thoughts that floated in my head from about 2 am on.

Today, Wednesday, the news channels are trying to inform people without alarming them. All of them are encouraging people to be sure they have an evacuation plan. Do not wait until the weekend to stock up. Get all of your important papers together now instead of later. There is still a good chance that we won’t take a direct hit, but there is still a chance we will. Since most of us were subjected to this three years ago (did I mention Friday, August 29 is the third anniversary of Katrina?), we are expecting the worse, but praying for the best.

We started our day off with a store meeting. We made sure we had everyone’s correct cell phone number. All but one or two of my staff do plan to evacuate if and when that time comes. One employee had been fortunate enough to be able to get hotel reservations last night. Of course, she had to get them in Montgomery, AL. There are no rooms left in Louisiana, Jackson, MS is filled, even Memphis is getting filled. We have pulled out our portable generators to make sure they have oil and fuel and are working. I know which computers I will take with me on the evacuation. We have checked to be sure all of our checkbooks, deposit slips, and insurance documents are at hand. We are filling up all of our trucks and some gas cans.

And guess how much normal work and business you do in a time like this? If you guessed none, you are correcto mundo. The last thing people want to shop for at a time like this is outdoor furniture that can turn into a missile if the wind gets high enough. August was shaping up to be better than expected. I was sort of counting on it to pull us out of the May, June, and July doldrums. Oh well, the best-laid plans of mice and men…..

I contacted the hotel I have reservations at for my Labor Day. I had to see if they would let me apply my deposit to another date. They were very understanding and waived their 7-day cancellation policy for me. When the reservation clerk came back to me after talking to her manager, I had deja vu all over again. She wished me well and said her prayers were with us. The same thing happened after Katrina. Invariably when it did, the kindness of strangers never ceased to overwhelm me.

Yours in confused retailing, Bruce