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The Chicago Traveler

My Evacuation Vacation

by Matt B on September 5th, 2008

hurricane gustavAs a few of you already know, I was vacationing in New Orleans, Louisiana for Labor Day weekend. Or rather, I planned to vacation there. I arrived last Thursday afternoon, and by Friday night, I was fleeing from Hurricane Gustav.

Let me just say it was quite an adventure. That Friday evening, my friends and I received a letter in our hotel room stating that Mayor Ray Nagin had ordered all guests and visitors to evacuate starting at 8 a.m. Saturday morning. We had arrived by train, but we could not leave that way because (I think) FEMA was using the trains to evacuate New Orleans residents from the area. Airfares were ridiculously expensive, so we rented a car. The four of us didn't want to potentially lose our car reservation in all the franticness, so we took a cab to the airport, picked up our rental car, and drove out of New Orleans in the middle of the night.

empty french quarterExhausted and sleepy, we stopped at a motel in Mobile, Alabama for some sleep. In the morning, we woke up to news that the entire coastline of Louisiana was evacuating. Millions of people were flooding the highways, and we fortunately missed the slow-moving traffic by several hours. We ended up in Atlanta, Georgia, where our very gracious friends allowed us to spend a few evenings until we could figure out a way home. Eventually, we were able to rent another car and drive back to Chicago, making an overnight stop in Seymour, Indiana.

There was a lot of stress and confusion involved in this trip, but it was an experience like none other. To tie this adventure back to the theme of this blog (i.e., travel), I have to say that traveling by train was fun and different. My friend and I were in a sleeping car, so we had a small compartment to ourselves with two seats, a fold-out table, and collapsible bunk beds. Our tickets included onboard meals, and we had the option of eating meals in our cabin or joining other passengers in the dining car. I must say that the flat iron steak I had for dinner was easily among the best I have ever had: a bit surprising for a mobile kitchen with a limited menu! Finally, the train traveled through forests, over rivers and creeks, and through small towns, providing incredible views that would not be possible from an airplane or even from the highways of a road trip by car.

hurricane gustav mississippiI am incredibly disappointed with how Amtrak handled the evacuation process though. The agents we called offered little to no information, and we were not officially notified that our trains were canceled until Saturday afternoon, several hours after the mayor's announcement. Had we waited until then to find our own way out of the city, we probably would have been left with only one option. While several buses were available to transport us out of the city, no one was allowed to tell us where those buses were going. This seems very, very strange to me.

Fortunately, everything worked out in the end, and big thanks go to my friends in Atlanta. I would still recommend traveling by train at least once because it is a wonderful experience. However, I would not recommend traveling to the Southeast states during hurricane season. Heh.

Photo credit: (c/o Flickr) missnexus, Maitri Venkat-Ramani, au_tiger01

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5 opinions for My Evacuation Vacation

  • gloria b
    Sep 5, 2008 at 2:46 pm

    What an ordeal, but an enlightening experience at best! Glad you’re safe!

  • Bill
    Sep 5, 2008 at 8:38 pm

    Atleast you enjoyed a day in New Orleans, too bad you didn’t head North to Memphis and Clarkdale, MS. Done the Blues Trail route, no doubt you’ve heard of Morgan Freeman Ground Zero Blues Clubs ?

  • Alicia
    Sep 6, 2008 at 10:41 pm

    Glad to hear you’re okay!!

  • Road Trip to Three Oaks’ Elm Street
    Sep 6, 2008 at 11:54 pm

    [...] small towns and businesses you might miss when traveling by plane. Even though my last long drive wasn't exactly planned, there were still many parts of it that were [...]

  • Matt B
    Sep 7, 2008 at 9:34 pm

    Bill, unfortunately, heading North was not an option. We needed to go somewhere where we could crash with friends (for free) for a few nights. I definitely want to visit again though, this time NOT during hurricane season. And no, I’ve not heard of the Clubs…?

    Alicia, thanks!

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