How to Evacuate For a Hurricane: Ten Tips Learned From Katrina

By Carla Robertson

When my husband and I evacuated for Katrina, we had a sense that this one might be serious. We worked together with the neighbors to board up our two houses, which took a couple of hours. We filled our car with our photo albums, our two cats, my husband’s Stratocaster guitar, assorted important paperwork, a cooler full of food and my great-grandmother’s quilt. I remember at the last minute I grabbed a bunch of additional clothes and random jewelry and shoved them in my bag.

How glad I was to have those extra clothes. We were away for thirty days, and we never expected that. However, we were lucky. We had our insurance paperwork so we could easily call our agent and begin the claim process immediately. We had our pets and the items from our home that would be irreplaceable – heirlooms and photos. We were fortunate enough to stay with dear friends in Alabama who welcomed us into their home and lives for weeks and weeks.

Three years later when we evacuated for Gustav, we didn’t do much differently. But there were a few things that we learned from Katrina that we now do without fail. This isn’t a comprehensive list – you can find lots of great lists online for what to consider when evacuating or preparing your home for a hurricane, but here are ten strategies that we tweaked after being evacuated for Katrina for so long.

1. Empty the refrigerator completely. While packing to evacuate, eat as much as possible – have an ice cream party with the neighbors! Bring anything you can with you to offer your hosts, and then toss the rest. Unplug the fridge and freezer and leave them open. A little tossed food costs far less than an entirely new fridge, the original one destroyed by putrid food and coffin flies that permeated every nook and cranny of the ventilation system. Never again.

2. If you go on vacation during hurricane season, make sure you’ve made arrangements for the evacuation of your pets in case there’s a hurricane while you’re away. We had friends who were on vacation in Canada when Katrina hit; their pet sitter left the animals in the house. Many days later my friend had to sneak into Orleans Parish to rescue her pets who had survived but made a serious mess on every rug. Better to be worry and mess-free.

3. If you’re a homeowner, consider installing some kind of system to make boarding up or protecting your house easier. We now have screws and brackets on the outside of certain windows and doors so that attaching the plywood coverings takes minutes instead of hours, and we reuse the plywood pieces that are carefully labeled so we know which board fits where. If my husband’s out of town, I can now board up the house by myself in about an hour.

4. Before evacuating, make a list of items that are irreplaceable, sentimental and easy to pack. Photos and recipes can be scanned and evacuated via computer if you don’t want to load albums and recipe books into your car. We now take the little wooden jaguar that we got during our honeymoon in Mexico. What special household decorations would you want to have if you had to start over? That’s one of the blessings of a hurricane evacuation – you usually have time to be intentional about what you pack.

5. Before you evacuate, take photos of all your rooms and the exterior of your house.It might be helpful should you need to make an insurance claim. Our photos included me holding up a current newspaper to show the date and focused especially on the work that had been done on our house since Katrina. We also took photos of all the tools, bikes, appliances, etc.

6. Consider storing your important paperwork in an “evacuation bag.” Our passports, marriage certificate, all insurance paperwork, social security cards and all those other important documents now permanently live in a bag that’s stored in a file cabinet, so we can easily grab it and go should we need to evacuate.

7. Think about what might be soothing or comforting or entertaining to have during a prolonged evacuation. Is it your meditation cushion or yoga mat? Photography equipment? Camping supplies? Games? Art supplies? Your favorite nail polish? Pack items that will bring you comfort should your situation become uncertain. Bring favorite clothes that make you smile and that you would prefer not to live without. If you have kids, give each of them room to pack what’s important to them. One of our friends was so grateful that her daughter had packed a small suitcase full of sentimental items and photos during the Katrina evacuation while the rest of the family had been more practical. Evacuations are times to think with your heart.

8. Keep your car gassed up during hurricane season so you don’t have to spend precious preparation time standing in line at the gas station.

9. In keeping with #1, spend summertime eating the contents of your freezer so that if you do have to evacuate you won’t have to throw out a ton of food.

10. Pack your car like you’re going for an extended road trip. Even if you leave New Orleans at 4 a.m., make sure you have easy access to lots of food and snacks. It took us eighteen hours to get to Birmingham during the Gustav evacuation – be ready for stopped traffic and a long long drive.
I sincerely hope that we don’t have to evacuate this year, but if we do, we’ll have our cats, each other, and that little wooden jaguar in the car with us – and plenty of snacks too!

Carla Robertson is a teacher and life coach who specializes in helping overwhelmed people come back to living their wild and precious lives. She lives in New Orleans where every day feels like vacation, and she loves to help others figure out how they can live lighter and happier. In 2009 she thru-hiked the entire Appalachian Trail, and she revisits the woods whenever she can, taking willing and curious souls with her.Find her at