Read Part I of the story here.
Saturday afternoon, much of our neighborhood gathered together to talk about what we had seen. We compared notes on whose roof was leaking, whose house had sustained major damage, whose generator was working. As the day grew darker, we moved everyone indoors and gathered around the flashlights.
When Shabbat ended, my husband and I loaded the kids into the car to drive the two streets to our home. Unfortunately, we were so preoccupied that we didn't prepare them for what they would see. Thus, as we pulled up in front of our house and the kids took in the gutters and the broken fence, our 9-year-old burst into tears. "Our house is broken," she choked out.
Our 4-year-old son, who is significantly developmentally delayed, merely pointed and said, "Oh, no!"
It was pitch black in the house, and we hurried to light candles and get flashlights. The kids set up sleeping bags in our room, and my husband and I used our cellphones to try to make calls and get information from the Internet. Reception was terrible; texting was all we could do -- and often, even the texts wouldn't go out. Eventually, we settled in for an uncomfortable night's sleep.
Action, reaction, overreaction
By morning, it was over 80 degrees in the house, and tempers flared. We couldn't open the fridge, so we gave the kids dry cereal and bottled water for breakfast. We couldn't shower, because the water supply had been compromised, so we sat, sticky and irritable, arguing over what to do next. I wanted to leave; he thought I was overreacting.
My husband went to the garage to listen to the car radio and came back in a few minutes later. "Pack a bag. We're going." He said. "What happened?" I asked. "There's a curfew on the city. They have no idea when the power will be back. Let's go."
Twenty minutes later, we were on the road.
In retrospect, we should have taken a little more time to pack properly. We left with just 3 days of clothes for everyone, few toiletries, no toys or books for the kids. But we were worried about the massive traffic jams we'd seen on television before Rita, and we wanted to get out. Hindsight.
On the road
It wasn't the traffic that made it hard to leave Houston; it was the flooding. The morning rains had flooded many of the roads. Devastation was visible everywhere -- buildings with windows blown out, freeway signs on the streets, light poles bent like toothpicks.
At one point we had to drive on the raised shoulder in order to get onto a freeway. But once we made it to the freeway, we were fine. We drove on, noting how far-reaching the effects of the hurricane were. As we headed towards Dallas, the weather grew more and more lovely; we arrived to find a beautiful day with temperatures in the high 70s and not a drop of humidity in the air.
We took the kids for lunch and then went to the home of a friend of a friend where we would spend the night. We unpacked our bags and took the kids to a nearby park to run around. We ran into some neighbors and kept an eye on the kids while we talked and worried and tried to reach our friends back home.
The surreal life
The next morning, we met up with several other "expats" at the Dallas Zoo. We wandered around, marveling aloud at how calm and normal the world was in Dallas, and how crazy things were back in Houston.
The cellular networks in Houston were starting to come back online, so our friends were able to text us more regularly with updates. More people were thinking of leaving, but many still hoped the power would be back quickly. The neighborhood planned a barbecue to use up meat that was about to go bad. We felt torn -- shouldn't we be home with our community? But, on the other hand, we had our children, including our special needs son, and we had to do what was best for them.
It was like living with a foot in each of two worlds, a strange in-between existence that went on for a week.