by Brynn Gibson
This is an interview with Vince Gibson, a 60-year-old Louisiana resident who did not evacuate for the recent Hurricane Zeta. Over the 44 years he has lived in Slidell and Pearl River, both suburbs of New Orleans, Gibson has seen countless hurricanes, but only three have stood out to him: Katrina, Gustave, and most recently, Zeta.
Q: When a hurricane is coming, what makes you decide whether to stay or to go?
A: It just depends. When my mother-in-law lived with us, she had a lot of health problems. So if anything scary was coming, and we thought hospitals would be unavailable or something like that, we’d take off and evacuate. Also, if it looks like it’s going to be a bad one, like anything bigger than a two, we think real hard about running away. I don’t want to be here for that. You could be without power for two weeks. You could have your roof blown off. It’s the strength of the hurricane, and whether or not you’ve got medical issues. You can’t run the risk of not being able to get to a hospital.
Q: How do you prepare for a hurricane?
A: If we decide to stay, we get extra drinking water. We get cases of gallons from a local company and also put frozen ice containers in the freezers and pack them full, and then if the power goes out there’s still frozen ice in there. We also get water to flush toilets. We’re out in the country so we’re on a water well, and if the power goes out here, we don’t have water, whereas most of your cities, most of the time, their water system is on a backup generator. But here, if the power goes out, I got no water. So we fill up those five-gallon water jugs that you see on water coolers. And those are handy enough that I can pour water into the toilet tank so I can flush the toilet. In a pinch, I can use them for drinking water; it’s just well water. We don’t board up the windows, but we do pick up everything in the yard, anything that could become a missile or flying debris. You’d be surprised what can be dangerous once you start looking around. All the solar lights, the patio furniture, the patio rugs, hose reels, garbage cans, wheelbarrows, just anything that could fly off, we go to put away in a shed or something.
Q: Why did you decide to stay for Hurricane Zeta instead of evacuating?
A: It looked like it probably wasn’t gonna be that bad. And then about a day or two before it hit, it got real bad. I think it went up to like a hard three and was going to come right over the top of us. By that time it was too late to get away. It was too late to make reservations at a hotel or whatever. So we just decided to stay and got lucky that it actually came down a little bit to like a high two. We probably should have bailed out, but again it comes down to money and time. The interstates get blocked up, and then you gotta go find a hotel somewhere. Who’s got money for that? How far do you gotta go [to be safe]?
Q: Was this hurricane particularly frightening or destructive for you? Did you or any of your neighbors face especially bad damage?
A: No, not right around me, we got lucky. I’m actually glad I don’t have a really good story. We were sitting on the back patio facing north. We were waiting for the storm to really come in, to get stronger and stronger and stronger. We were standing out there and all of a sudden it got ferocious. It really scared us, so we came inside, and it did that for about 30 minutes. It was just, wow, this is scary, man, this is really bad. It slowly stopped, and I’m pretty sure the eye went over us. It got really cold. And then when it picked back up, it wasn’t nearly as windy and was almost like it was half a storm. The north half was the ferocious part. The back, or the south half, wasn’t as rough. The storm was moving at like 20 miles an hour, so it was over quick. That was a blessing right there. All of my close neighbors have a natural gas whole-house generator. They couldn’t care less if the power goes, because it automatically kicks back in and they got full power, air conditioning and all.
Q: How long did you go without power?
A: We were only out 24 hours. There was a neighbor in Lancome, he lives right off the bayou which is pretty close to Lake Pontchartrain, and he was out for four days. And another friend of ours also lives in Lancome, but they live north, away from the water, and they were also out for four days. I tend to put that in perspective. There was an ice storm in Oklahoma about the same time we were getting hit by this hurricane, and some of those people are still without power. They’ve gone two, three, four weeks without power. Four days is bad, but it could be worse.
Q: How bad was Zeta compared to other hurricanes this season and others you have lived through?
A: This is probably the worst one that we sat through. There were only two others. I believe it was Gustave, and that blew a bunch of stuff around. That’s why I learned to pick up everything in the yard. We were without power for about three days. That was miserable because it was summertime, and the house immediately heats up to like 95 or 100 degrees. It just gets like an oven in your house down here in the summer without power. Before that, it was just Katrina, and we ran away. It was a good thing we did because when we came back the damage was just stunning. So yeah, I miss a lot of them. We picked this place in Pearl River specifically. No flooding and almost no pine trees around the house. Because after Katrina, just about every pine tree was wiped out in our parish [county]. Just snapped off about halfway up. A lot of them turned into lawn darts. The top half would stick into the ground straight up. It was unbelievable, mind-blowing honestly. The whole forest of pine trees snapped off halfway up. So when we were looking for a house, I didn’t want any pine trees within striking distance, and I didn’t want to flood, so I picked high ground.
Q: Any additional thoughts, stories, or comments?
A: Just that you better really really want to live by the water, you know, because now even these small storms are pushing [the storm surge]. Again, my friend in Lacombe was by the water, and like six times he’s had to pick up his patio furniture, and he’s elevated off the ground about ten feet. Six times he’s had to pick that stuff up and lock it down or get it up out of the way in case it floods. It’s only flooded once, but you gotta do it because you don’t know. So yeah, if you want to live by the water, you better really enjoy it, because if a hurricane is coming, it’ll wipe you out.