The other defining moment was a year or two after the night when everyone went motionless in the dark.

The news for the past month had been non-stop images of Katrina’s aftermath. Now Hurricane Rita was bearing down on our area. Although I had food and water stored, we were expecting friends who were evacuating from the coast so I decided to make one last run to the store for some odds and ends. I headed down the main street in our little town along which all the stores are located.

I was immediately struck by all the huge “NO WATER” signs in front of every grocery-type stores, from tiny dollar establishments to big box stores. Only one small store had a sign that they’d just received a single shipment of bottled water; I stopped in, out of curiosity.

The typically near-vacant parking lot was crowded, the store was charging twice the usual price and people were jostling and anxious as they edged into line. A police officer walked out with several flats of bottled water and put them in the back of his cruiser.

Things began to feel a bit surreal. I turned and left, distracted by what I’d seen, and continued on down the street.

I ended up in the biggest grocery store in town and was shocked at the scene. It made the day before Thanksgiving look like a ghost town by comparison. People were wild-eyed, dashing around with their carts, barely suppressing their panic. The canned food aisle was stripped bare, with ~ I am not kidding ~ only store-brand jalapeno-flavored Spam left. No tuna, no soup, no beef stew, nothing.

Ditto for the bread, granola bars, crackers and snacks. All bottled water of any type was gone. (And just a few days before, as Rita’s path became more defined, I’d been teased by strangers for being a chicken when they saw me picking up extra gallons of water.)

There were only a couple of bottles of sports drink left and two women were loudly, angrily arguing about who got there first and should get the bottles. I truly thought they were going to come to blows. (A friend later told me that she HAD seen two women get into an actual fist fight over the last flat of water.)

Since I was well-stocked on the essentials I left what few items remained for those who were in full panic mode and went back home. I was stunned by how post-apocalyptic it had all looked, how angry and afraid everyone had been, how willing to take down anyone in their way.

That combination ~ so many people being unprepared in the face of potential impending disaster and their sheer animal panic ~ really threw me, coming as it did on a still-sunny morning in a quiet little town.

It made me realize how fragile the basis of our system is, both in terms of supply and emotions. I’d known it in theory, but to see it played out right in front of me was something completely different.

The still-vivid image of that morning is the other main seed that eventually grew into this blog:  I want so much for people to get out of that loop of need and fear, both for their own sakes and to save what resources remain in those situations for those who didn’t prepare, practically and emotionally.

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