Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Fall 2005, Never Forget (Part 2)

For Part 1, click here.

Two days later (Monday, August 29th), Hurricane Katrina plowed into the Gulf Coast, taking with it more than 1,800 lives and billions of dollars worth of infrastructure along the way.  From my house 2.5 hours west of New Orleans, we watched in horror as the news broadcast all that occurred east of us.  We experienced the rain and wind of some of the storm's outer bands, but our power never went out and we were able to keep up with almost all of the news coverage coming out of the area.

The only people we knew directly affected by the storms were more like acquaintances than close family or friends, but our hearts still went to those living the devastation first-hand.  Almost immediately, a "Cajun Navy" of 350+ boats assembled at the Acadiana Mall in Lafayette, pledging to offer volunteer rescue services to those in need (who knew the government would fail at pulling together adequate resources for addressing the situation).  It couldn't have been more then a day or two before buses started rolling in to local arenas, community centers, and nearly any facility that wouldn't have it's daily functions interrupted by hundreds or thousands of new guests (aka: evacuees).

Hundreds of boats assembled at the mall at 4 a.m. That, my friends, is dedication.
The campus of Nicholls itself was spared of major damage, but many, many students were unable to return for more than a week, so the school canceled classes for a week and a half (thanks, Jen, for jogging my memory!).  With the extra time on my hands, I rounded up random craft supplies and games, and spent a few days offering to play with kids who were staying in nearby shelters.  I remember it being an extremely awkward situation to be a teenager showing up in the midst of all the regimented chaos (yes, regimented chaos) and trying to track down someone "in charge" who could give me permission to play with the children.  Most kids who ventured to where I set up shop were shy, timid, and unsure of what I had to offer.  A few though, really enjoyed the distraction, and I could tell their parents appreciated it too.

Though I'd only been a student there for one week, getting back to Nicholls was a strange experience.  For starters, there were hundreds of new people calling campus home - both students and general evacuees.  Like at home, the campus had opened up both of its gyms to house evacuees from the New Orleans area, and the nursing building was transformed into a triage/hospital of sorts.  Many of our classes were relocated to account for new people and the accompanying business functions (communication headquarters, distribution of food/clothing, reunification efforts, applying for aid, etc).

Jen and I were forced to move out of that "new" dorm room of ours (we never once actually stayed in that room, btw), back onto the first floor hotel-style part of the building, to make room for students from other schools who hoped to avoid missing an entire semester of coursework (NOLA area schools cancelled classes for the entire semester).  All of a sudden, students from Tulane, Loyola, the University of New Orleans, and even some community colleges were now enrolled in classes.  These students (and even some of the original Nicholls students) didn't have text books or other basic supplies, but our teachers worked around it.  Everyone truly bent over backwards so that these students didn't lose out on their work.

(Note: After Katrina, almost all of our classes migrated to using online systems and students were instructed at the start of each semester that classes would continue via distance should anything occur that prevented the school from providing in-person instruction.  There were clauses added to syllabi that told students they were obligated to take texts and other materials along should the need to evacuate become essential.  I attribute the spike in online classes and related technology to the effects of this situation.)

Speaking of students from other schools, Jen's then-boyfriend-now-husband was one of those affected.  Logan had just begun his first semester at UNO and found himself at Nicholls after the storm.  We enjoyed having Logan around for the semester, but his heart was at UNO and he returned to school there when classes resumed there in the Spring (2006).

Don't hate me, ya'll!
Overall, the vibe on campus that semester was really a unique one.  Students were encouraged to wear (bring) their student IDs with them at all times, and administration recommended students not travel on foot after dark as added safety precautions.  But, for a quiet little campus such as ours, having all those extra people meant there were always others around.  Faculty and students in the Communications Department assembled two news publications (here and here) for evacuees, and the local community banded together to provide for all their needs, including the coordination of regular recreational opportunities such as sports tournaments and outdoor picnics.  In some ways and was annoying to have the disruption (as I imagine many selfish college students would feel), and in other ways remarkably encouraging to have witnessed the incredible sacrifice of those who bound together to serve those in true crisis.

Of course, time went on, we finished the Fall semester and continued with our college experience.  Slowly, people were reunited with family, and students returned to their original schools.  We all moved past those months and continued to find both struggles and successes over the years.  Today, though, we remember those experiences and how they defined a part of our lives, a part that we will never forget.


For added reading on Katrina effects in the Houma/Thibodaux area:
Killer Dog Cheers up Katrina Evacuees at Nicholls
Pushed to the Limits
Katrina Taught Houma-Thibodaux Something About Itself


Jen @ Into Your Will said...

Oh my goodness, how have I not seen that picture before?! Hahaha. Logan is adorable! (Me, not so much) And I seriously forgot how crazy the campus was the first few months...

Stephanie @ Blessed to Be said...

Loved reading your perspective of Katrina. Thanks for sharing!