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Y2K + 5

Y2K + 5

I wonder how my friend Mike fared during Hurricane Rita. Mike, who lives near DeQuincy, is a person who likes to be prepared. Five years ago as the year 2000 neared and the fears about Y2K became common everyday talk, Mike took action. He got prepared for the first day of the new millennium. If America lost power, services, and civilization as we knew it, Mike would be ready.

Everyone in some form or another took some steps for that date. Thankfully, it was not a problem. People good-naturedly picked at Mike about his huge stockpile of gas, diesel, water, and foodstuffs. I’ve always wondered what he did with his vast stockpile.

In the week after Hurricane Rita, I thought about Mike. I hope he saved all of his supplies because those were the very items in such short supply. In the days after the storm, especially the first week, everything was in short supply. Being without electricity, water, and gasoline really affects how we live in the 21st century.

Generators became worth their weight in gold, which is saying a great deal. With a working generator you could keep your freezer cold and provide light for the dark times of the night. Also because of generator power, you could run a small 110 air conditioner. In the miserably hot days after Rita, that was a luxury above description.

People without any air conditioning began sleeping outside to escape the stale heat of indoor rooms. At the camp many evacuees slept on the porches and on picnic benches. They said that in spite of the insects, being outside was better than suffocating in the nearly windowless rooms.

All throughout Dry Creek community, the normally quiet nights were replaced by the loud drone of these gas-powered generators. Wise people quickly learned to chain down their generators to prevent theft.

The American Press told of thirty generators belonging to Union Pacific that had been stolen along its tracks between Lake Charles and Beaumont. Telephone service ceased at night due to the telephone companies bringing in their substation generators to prevent their disappearance.

Because generators were such a hot commodity, entrepreneurs began showing up with truckloads of generators and power saws. A long line of people would snake around parking lots as these items were sold out of the back of tractor trailers.

In the nearby community of Elizabeth, a truck from Michigan sold generators for $1200 each. Even though these normally sold for $600, people were lined up ready to pay the inflated price for a generator. These “new carpetbaggers” at Elizabeth took advantage of people’s losses to make a quick profit.

There was great discussion about what was the fair price for selling needed items like these. No one expects folks to lose money on transporting needed items to an area, but there is a fine line between the free enterprise system and price gouging.

Of course for every carpetbagger there were many more “hurricane angels”—those good souls who came to help. I’ll always remember Jeff Farmer driving in from Houston with twelve generators he had purchased. The camp bought three for the purchase price and he refused to let us pay for the gas required for his transportation from Houston.

Over and over these hurricane angels showed up. My camp friend, James Newsom, who had been through Hurricane Lillie, brought all of the things we needed: generators, gas, window units, and water. Once again we saw that hard times can bring out the best in people.

The next thing that became acutely short in supply was gasoline. It takes over five gallons of gas to operate a generator overnight. To have gas to get to work or go find needed food items or supplies became a key concern for everyone. The price of gas shot up quickly to over $3.00 per gallon, but even then it was in short supply. Long gas lines not seen since the oil embargo of 1973 became common again.

As people drove around searching for gas, a now familiar sight became common—gas pump nozzles covered with small white plastic bags. This was a sure sign that there was no gasoline there.

As essential items began to really be in short supply, foraging began. Everyday people drove away from the camp traveling far and wide to search for generators, gasoline, food, or a place to stay with hot water and air conditioning.

Everyone traveled with empty gas cans in the hope they might find a convenience store or station with gasoline.

By Monday after Rita, we began to have a critical shortage of life’s most essential item: water. Our community water system was down. There were problems getting the right generators to operate the wells and we had no water at all.

We had filled the camp swimming pool so we could carry water for flushing our toilets. Even so, having little water for cleaning, cooking, and washing made things tough. It is at this point that the majority of our evacuees left.

Finally shipments of water began arriving en masse in gallon-bottled water sizes.

Right behind that was the need for ice. The need for ice was greatly magnified by the extreme heat wave we baked under.

When the ice trucks arrived at Foreman’s Grocery, they were accompanied by the Alabama National Guard who organized the fair distribution. They were there to ensure that everyone present stayed civil. It was amazing to see how every facet of our lives had been affected by this hurricane.

Finally there was the need for food. Most refrigerated and frozen food spoiled quickly. Foreman’s meat market had one of their big trucks in the parking lot giving away meat, sausage and boudin before it could ruin. Our evacuees kept their BBQ pits going as they cooked before food could spoil.

After several days, food supplies began to run low. No stores were open anywhere so new supplies were non-existent. Even with a generator most electric stoves would not work, so cooking became difficult.

That is when our community began a love-hate relationship with MRE’s. These military meals, called “Meals ready to eat” are the modern version of the K and C-ration. They come in a plastic bag and contain about 1200–1500 calories of various foods. The newer MRE’s have a catalytic heater that warms the main entrée through a chemical reaction. We’ve always used them on summer camp hiking trips. Our teenage hikers called the MREs, “Meals Rejected by Ethiopians.” We would have to stay on them concerning their wanting to pour the chemical reaction agents in a plastic coke bottle, recap it, and then watch it explode. Country boys are always something to work with!

But you’ll never hear me criticize MREs. They are pretty good, especially when you have little other options. We would gather outside the camp dining hall as we opened our packages and made trades between desserts, spices, and beverage powder. We were able to gather cases of MREs, and share them with the community.

As we learned to look for water, gas, food, and ice, we began to call this time of our lives in September 2005, “Y2K + 5.” Five years down the road, the things we feared came to pass.

However they weren’t brought about by the world’s computers freezing up due to a number, but instead by the winds, rain, and destruction of a natural disaster—a hurricane called Rita.

We were taught in an unforgettable way how fragile both the necessities and luxuries of our lives are. So many of the things we daily use and need were suddenly gone. What a good lesson in appreciating and not taking for granted both the necessities and luxuries we use daily.

About Curt Iles

I write to have influence and impact through well-told stories of my Louisiana and African sojourn.

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