If I were to tell you that you had 24 hours to evacuate your home, what would you do? More specifically, what would you take with you? If we assume that your family members are automatically on the list (I know . . . a dangerous assumption in some instances), what else would you include? I asked my daughter and son-in-law this hypothetical question recently (at least, it’s currently hypothetical for us—not so much for the folks who were in Hurricane Ida’s path) and their responses were basically what I expected. Pets, things for their son such as his Pack-N-Play for sleeping, his seahorse and elephant and other “friends” that he likes to bed down with, clothes for all of them (the people, not the “friends”), any medications they might be taking, important papers, their iPads and definitely their phones . . . and then Kathryne went in a direction that hadn’t occurred to me. The antique quilts her grandmother had given her, other family heirlooms they had received over the years—those priceless things that are only priceless to her but can never be replaced. I asked about pictures but they reminded me most of theirs are on their phones or other electronic devices. Where I’d be hauling out box after box of photos, they can carry theirs in their pockets.
Then I changed my question. What if you only had an hour? Suppose there’s a forest fire bearing down on you but you have some advance warning? Now what do you take? The list was pretty much the same, but the plan changed. They would divide the tasks and approach them with a greater sense of urgency.
Then I changed my question again. What if you only had five minutes? That forest fire quickly turned or, like Waverly, Tennessee just experienced, the flood waters unexpectedly arrived. My daughter didn’t hesitate. They’d grab their child and their pets and go. Except she did note one of the cats would probably get left behind. She’s afraid of the world and hides when chaos ensues. Or when it doesn’t. Basically, she just stays hidden most of the time.
This is a question a good many people have faced over the years, and there are times they’ve ignored the warnings or waited too long to leave and it cost them their lives. One rather famous old codger who believed he could beat the odds was Harry R. Truman (not to be confused with President Harry S. Truman). Harry R. operated Mount St. Helens Lodge on Spirit Lake at the base of Mount St. Helens in Washington state. With more than two months warning before the fateful eruption of May 18, 1980, he refused to budge, saying the danger was highly exaggerated . . . he was far enough away and the lake would protect him . . . he had contingency plans for survival . . . but within one minute of the collapse of the mountain’s north flank, everything in its path was effectively vaporized. The lake was destroyed, the lodge was buried under 150 feet of volcanic debris—and Harry was never seen again.
Many made the same mistake when Hurricane Katrina hit the coast in late August of 2005. Over 1,800 people lost their lives. Tens of thousands who chose not to leave were stranded in New Orleans and the surrounding area with no food, water, electricity, or other basic necessities. Again, there was sufficient warning if they had only listened, but many of them didn’t believe the danger was real. Many of them decided protecting their property was worth the risk they took by staying. And many of them learned the hard way they were wrong.
So perhaps I should change my question just a bit. If you were told evacuation was necessary to possibly save your life, would you go? How long would it take you to decide? And then I can ask . . . what would you choose to take with you? And is it worth your life trying to salvage it?
About the author: Lisa Shackelford Thomas is a fourth generation member of a family that’s been in funeral service since 1926. She has been employed at Shackelford Funeral Directors in Savannah, Tennessee for over 40 years and currently serves as the manager there. Any opinions expressed here are hers and hers alone, and may or may not reflect the opinions of other Shackelford family members or staff.