Hurricane Evacuation, Hurricane Harvey

Guest Blogger: Our Evacuation Story of Hurricane Harvey with Our Medically Fragile Son

By: Lindsey Hiatt

When we brought my son home from the hospital after 3 1/2 months in the NICU, along with the whole trach/ventilator/feeding tube/oxygen he required, we got things all set up at home the first night with the medical equipment companies and private duty nursing companies. Among the huge stack of paperwork required, they pulled out a form for us to fill out our emergency preparedness plan.

“What is your plan in the event of an evacuation?”

“What is your back-up plan?”

When you live 20 minutes from the Gulf coast, you need an emergency plan for hurricanes and storms.  Hurricanes enter the gulf, and everyone watches the storm. If it’s going to be of significant size, we will have heard about it in the news for a week or more. Often times, you just get prepared to stay and ride out the storm. If it looks like it’s going to be a direct hit and big enough size, you board up your house and evacuate. After the storm passes, you return home and clean up the mess.

When you have a medically fragile child, the stakes are definitely higher with more factors to consider. If there was a remote possibility that a hurricane was headed our way, my plan was to pack up and leave. His needs were overwhelming on a good day that I couldn’t fathom weathering a storm back then. I held my breath every hurricane season which is six months of every year. Each year there were no hurricanes and no threats to our area.

Fast forward seven years, we have thankfully shed most of his medical needs. He’s more stable, busy, and full of life. His needs are less life threatening. Now all he requires is electricity for his sleep apnea machine, to refrigerate and blend his limited-texture diet, and to keep his electronic AAC charged so he can speak. My husband had a transfer switch installed on our house last month because our neighborhood loses power if it’s a heavy rain or cloudy. Now we are all set up to run almost our entire house on our generator. Because he’s an Eagle Scout and a rock-star special-needs daddy, and you can never be too prepared on the Gulf Coast.

SAN ANTONIO, TX – OCTOBER 24, 2015: Evers Rd. is flooded by a raging Huebner Creek due to excess rain from Hurricane Patricia on October 24, 2015 in San Antonio, Texas.

While life with P is OUR “normal”, it’s still not the typical life most have. And that means during hurricane season, I have to read between the lines on the official evacuation notices. Our home was never in a voluntary OR mandatory evacuation zone for Harvey. We ended up evacuating late evening. However, we almost stayed to ride out the storm.  If I hadn’t have had to factor my son into the equation, we would still be there. The other three of us can survive for a long time on non-perishable food and water without electricity.

If you are asking why or how people could stay for a storm like Harvey, here is how this went for us.

We didn’t hear anything about Harvey until it had crossed Mexico. There’s so many “potentials” this time of year for storms, and we can’t get worked up over every one. Usually, at least in recent years, crossing land in Mexico has taken the punch out of the system and we just get the remnants of rain and some wind.

They started saying, “we think this is going to organize again. Probably going to be a Tropical Storm before it makes landfall. Probably headed our general direction.”

We hear: Go buy food and water for three days in case we lose power and the weather is too nasty to get out of the house.

For me that meant: Double check all his prescriptions are filled; blend 3 days worth of his meals. Pre-shop a few more days worth of food. Grab 3 gallons of water and 2 flats of water bottles. Cook ahead so stuff is already to just warm up.

(These storms are known for changing their minds on where they actually go ashore at the last minute, so I was already mentally factoring in what to do with all these extra water bottles when we didn’t use them… we do have a birthday party next month… perfect. Ok. Prepared. Check.)

When it got closer, we heard it may actually turn into a Category 1 hurricane and could be as close as Corpus Christi.
For me that meant: Send the hubby to buy extra gas for the generator and make sure it’s set up to run in the rain. Make him get more water while he’s out. And a jar of applesauce.

Then they start narrowing down where it will landfall and announced evacuations. Corpus Christi, Port Aransas, and Rockport were evacuated.  I sent my husband for extra gas for the generator. I bought more water bottles for the house.

I tried to stock up on Gerber puree pouches in case somehow the generator failed. The grocery store stopped carrying any protein 2nd foods… I have a slight panic moment as I think “He can’t survive on just applesauce and lemon pudding” (which are the only non-perishables he can eat).

By afternoon the town of Sargent was evacuating. We heard it might POSSIBLY become a Category 3 Hurricane.

All of Matagorda county was evacuating (the county that borders us to the west) and Surfside (on the beach 15 minutes from us to the east). We were told the rain would likely last six days.  This meant if we lost power at the beginning of the rain, they may not be able to fix it for 6 days. I asked my husband if we had enough gas to handle a week-long power outage. We would need the generator to run through the night for my son’s sleep apnea machine. He told me we had 2-3 days worth of generator power.

That was the final point where we realized we had to evacuate.  If this thing actually hit where they thought it would and was actually as big as they thought it might be, we wouldn’t have the electricity to keep my son safe. We knew we had to leave. I packed in a slight panic all afternoon. I felt like I was over-reacting about leaving. I didn’t know how many other people would be on the road headed inland. In case we got stuck in traffic for a long time, I grabbed a roll of toilet paper. As everyone else in town finished stocking up on a week’s worth of food, we gave our generator and gas to a neighbor and left.

The only reason we left is because of my son with special needs. The only reason we had smooth sailing on the highways getting out is because the Mayor of Houston and all the surrounding counties told everyone to STAY PUT. They knew those in the path for the direct hit, where buildings were actually ripped apart, needed the roads to evacuate. If the whole city of Houston had tried to evacuate, we would have been stuck on the road in a dangerous way with the other 6 million people. For probably 24 hours, if not more. The decisions the Mayor wisely made – and the way the people of Houston listened – allowed us to get to safety. I’m so thankful.

By Friday morning, we were safely evacuated. As we all waited for landfall, our local hospital started transferring patients up to Houston. I realized that THAT should be my cue that we made the right decision. They were getting the most vulnerable people in the county out first, and everyone else needed to stay put for the transfer to successfully happen.

Now my family sits and waits until it’s over. We wait for the flood waters from Houston to move through our county and into the Gulf. We hold our breath, and we watch how high the water will come. Our house, which is in the 500 year flood plain, still has electricity and clear streets. However, the grocery stores are all near empty. All of our friends are holding down the fort, making the most of it, waiting, and praying they stay safe. My neighbors are helping those who have already been displaced by the floods.

We try to keep the kids from going stir crazy until we are able to return, and we looked over today and my daughter picked something up off the floor and asked us what it was. It was my son’s G-button. The balloon had broken. We did a quick emergency G-button change. If for some reason I hadn’t been able to get it in, we would have needed to head to a big-city hospital.  As he’s tackling the dog and begging us to go outside in the rain, it was a reminder of his medical fragility.

As you watch the aftermath of this catastrophic event unfold – which NO ONE could have predicted… please be kind. As you are tempted to criticize the decisions our leadership made, or the intelligence of those that followed those instructions, please know that those of us living this disaster are in awe at the way this disaster is being managed.

As you watch in awe at the footage and the aftermath, remember that we are watching it too. I think we have all been traumatized. You have seen unbelievable devastation. We have watched neighborhoods we grew up in become lakes; the high schools we went to turned into shelters with helicopters and army tanks in the parking lots where we parked our first cars; photos of so many people that we actually know being rescued by boat with their children; and we have worried about countless friends and family all over the area.

Flooded playground in Houston Texas

My husband is sitting next to me shopping for inflatable boats online. Because I told him we had to have one at our house from now on. It’s utterly preposterous that we should ever need to use it… but a 1000-year flood just happened all around us. Our hearts may take longer to heal than our homes.

As you are tempted to complain about the hike in gas prices, remember there were men and women who worked tirelessly, not knowing how many days they would be at work, cut off from their families in a time of crisis, to keep that refinery or chemical plant running until the last possible moment. As soon as the floods allow, they will be back out there pulling long hours to get back to full operations as soon as possible. If they didn’t personally suffer loss from the storm and flood, they will be spending their weekends helping those that did. Mudding-out houses, feeding people, and opening up their homes for neighbors who lost everything. This is what we do in the Gulf Coast – we help each other.

Pray pray pray for those that have yet to see the worst of the floods yet. Pray for the relief efforts. We know God is with us, even in this. He is near to the broken-hearted. He sees every need. He hears every prayer. He is good. And He is bigger than Harvey.

Send whatever resources you can.

Lindsey Hiatt – is a mother of 2 children, homeschooler and blogger.

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2 thoughts on “Guest Blogger: Our Evacuation Story of Hurricane Harvey with Our Medically Fragile Son

  1. My eight month old son is on oxygen. This tragedy hit home for me in PA from Houston, Texas. My childhood neighborhood is under water. My friends and family have had power outages, evacuations, and devastating damage to their homes. I told my husband that we will get an extra 20 M-6 tanks for the winter months just in case. If you are prepared, you shall not fear is a good motto but actually having to put it into practice is definitely something I am afraid of. We do have a generator too for additional backup. Great job following your instincts. Having a medically fragile child puts it into perspective for sure. Best wishes to you when you are able to return home and start the task of your new normal.

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