Houston Natives Evacuate With New Orleans on Their Minds

ByNancy Chandross

Sept. 21, 2005 — -- A watercolor painting of New Orleans is among the personal possessions that will fill the car of a Houston family evacuating in advance of Hurricane Rita.

Two months ago, Kathy Cross and her husband were celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary in New Orleans. With memories of Bourbon Street fresh in her mind, she's packing a souvenir from the trip while hoping Hurricane Rita will spare her hometown the type of damage she saw Hurricane Katrina leave behind.

"Maybe she'll stay west?" Cross said hopefully. "Certainly don't want New Orleans to get it … couldn't see those people getting that again, but I don't want it either. I don't want anyone to have it but you live by the coast -- it's just what you live with."

During Katrina, she went days with no word from one of her two sisters who lives in Mississippi, so she's preparing for Hurricane Rita by compiling lists of family phone numbers and e-mails to remain in contact. Her sister was fortunate enough to survive Katrina with just minimal damage to her home.

"It kind of makes us realize that life can change in an instant," said Cross.

The 48-year-old said she's impressed with the orderly response in Texas this week, as those who first sheltered Hurricane Katrina's evacuees use that experience to prepare for their own potential storm.

Cross said she and her family have been boarding up the windows of their Houston home and moving personal possessions to higher floors in case of flooding. She also managed to fill her car up with gas before noticing some nearby stations running out of fuel as her neighbors also geared up to evacuate.

"People are paying attention to this. It may turn and not hit us this bad, but do you take that chance?" she asked.

As Hurricane Rita was upgraded to a Category 4 storm, Cross and her immediate family began to work out plans to evacuate.

They'll drive roughly four hours to San Antonio and stay with strangers who are welcoming them, due to a mutual friend. While five of them will arrive with a dog and two cats, she fears her 79-year-old father will refuse to make the trip away from home.

Cross said she finds herself thinking of those in New Orleans, and having more sympathy for those who remained in the city during its storm.

"So many people were like, 'They should have left,' but there are other factors that play a role in this. My situation, I can't get my dad to go … it's easy to say they should have left but it doesn't always work that way," said Cross.

Her father has close ties to his neighbors and he wants to remain in familiar surroundings. Cross and her eight siblings will continue to try and persuade their parents to go. If not, she is concerned she may have to separate from her family and remain to ensure her elderly father's safety.

As a pharmacist, Cross registered with the Red Cross and offered to volunteer in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as she awaited word from her sister in Mississippi.

Now she's packing the three-bedroom home she's lived in for 18 years and is ready to pitch in again with her medical experience if needed.

"Grabbed my stethoscope in case we need to help anybody out, and I have my cards for CPR in case I need to help anyone along the way and I brought extra candles and matches," said Cross. "I'll help by giving what I have and hopefully nobody will need help."

Picking personal items is not that straightforward, though. "In every room you see something that's special," said Cross. "I took a few pieces of artwork off the wall that my kids did back when I was an art major, and they used to draw when I drew … we'll just take what we can and squeeze it all in."

Hurricanes and recovery efforts are a big switch from the summer, when Cross and her husband enjoyed a bit of a honeymoon on their trip to New Orleans. She's now saddened by the idea that the bed and breakfast they enjoyed that weekend may be destroyed, and vows to continue her volunteer efforts after Hurricane Rita passes Texas.

She's packed her souvenir watercolors from New Orleans, to have a piece of that city close at hand. "I was so thankful we got those and those were one of the first things we packed," said Cross.

Her car will also hold some champagne, and plenty of food in case they get stuck on their way to San Antonio. Cross is trying to look at this as an "adventure," and is maintaining her sense of humor. The Texas native jokes the name Rita generally has a more welcome association in the Southwest, "I would much rather have my Rita with a 'marg' at the front of it … with some salt on the rim," said Cross.

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