Sunday, August 31, 2008

Hurricane Gustav Evacuation: First Night

Three years ago, I flew the third to the last helicopter out of my employer's Boothville, Louisiana base as Hurricane Katrina advanced. We'd talked about the likely path of the storm the day before, and most of we pilots had a feeling that the storm would not spare our base. We were right. Katrina made landfall almost directly over Boothville.

As Gustav advances, the fatalistic feeling about the Boothville base isn't there this time. That said, I'm really concerned for the folks who live in Grand Isle, Louisiana. It's Louisiana's only inhabited barrier island, home of Grand Isle State Park, and the location of one of our bases. I personally know several Grand Isle natives, and I worry about what they'll find when they return from the evacuation.

All of our aircraft made it into Tallahassee without incident. Some of the pilots look a little weary, to be sure: after spending the last few days pulling offshore oil workers out of harm's way in the Gulf of Mexico, a certain letdown is unavoidable. But it's the maintenance folks who've really lived through a crunch, as they've moved equipment out of bases, prepared helicopters for evacuations, and in some cases, resolved last minute maintenance problems. The mainstay of our fleet, the Sikorsky S-76C++, costs nearly ten million dollars per aircraft. It would not be good to leave one of them on the ground in the face of an advancing hurricane.

Our licenced mechanics, by in large, are a great group of guys. After twenty-nine years working for the same employer, I'm still sometimes amazed with what they can pull off. Many of them have been burning the candle at both ends with Gustav's approach, but I hope they're all sleeping like babies tonight.

I talked with Rhonda and Dylan four times today: once in the morning before leaving Boothville, again during our fuel stop in Destin, and twice--so far--upon arriving in our "safe haven" of Tallahassee. I feel guilty because I can tell they were worrying, and I feel like I failed to explain what was going on adequately.

Tommorrow will likely involve just sitting and waiting, as we wonder where Gustav will land, and wonder whether any of our bases get pounded into oblivion. It's a waiting game from here, until we get word that it's time to remobilize. It's the calm before a different kind of storm.

Let the calm commence.


Debby said...

You really, really have to be grateful for the ubiquitous cell phone! 20 years ago Rhonda and Dylan would have had a far longer wait for your phone call. Glad that you're safe. I'm posting a link to your blog from mine, if that is all right with you.

Enjoy your calm.

quid said...

Thinkin' of you, up the road in Tallahassee, Hal. Looks like a lotta water covering Grand this morning. I can't believe the Children's Hospital could not evacuate, and my prayers are there.

Along with all those little coastal cities west of NO, in "Tabasco land". I'm sure they're getting the worst, and even CNN has not yet ventured there.