Centenary Magazine Spring '06
Shelter from the Storms
Centenary responds to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita
To much of the country and world, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita are a distant memory, but to the residents of Louisiana and the Gulf Coast their names and memories are as indelible—or more so—than those evoked by “September 11” or “Oklahoma City.”
The devastation was as sudden and unexpected as any terrorist act and the aftershocks continue months after the winds came ashore and the levees began to crumble last August and September. Into every aspect of Louisiana life, Katrina-Rita continues to creep, as evacuee, recovery and rebuilding issues spread ripple effects through families, communities and governments.
Situated in the northwest corner of Louisiana, Centenary College of Louisiana physically escaped Katrina and mostly escaped Rita without much physical damage. Not so lucky were the many at Centenary whose families lost their homes and livelihoods and those who sought shelter on the campus and in the homes of the extended Centenary family. Not so fortunate were the complete strangers, many of whom would be helped by representatives of Centenary and other heroes of the storms.
The stories are ones of tragedy and sadness, surrounded by tales of incredible bravery and fortitude that lasted far beyond the first week when New Orleans kept the nation spellbound with the unfolding of the worst natural disaster to ever strike an American city.
Every member of the Centenary student body, faculty and staff has been touched in some way by the stories of Katrina and Rita.
A Day-by-Day Accounting
This past August in the rolling hills of North Louisiana, Centenary College joined the local community in preparing for what was believed to be yet another brief visit by South Louisianans escaping a hurricane. These temporary visitors, as they do a few times each year, would weather the storm for a day or two and then return to their lives and livelihoods. Little did anyone expect that “normal” might not return to Louisiana for years or that evacuees would spend weeks and months away from their homes, if indeed they had homes still habitable.
On Aug. 27, 2005, no one, in their wildest dreams, imagined the devastation and the ensuing urban horror that followed the winds and waters of Hurricane Katrina, which blew ashore near New Orleans. The local story is a tiny part of the larger picture drawn by Katrina and—less than a month later—by Hurricane Rita that has changed Louisiana’s entire coast—from Texas to Mississippi. Millions were affected, including at least 30 percent of the Centenary student body who were from coastal areas of Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.
For the campus community—and for the early evacuees—the story begins with word that Dillard University student-evacuees are headed our way.
===Saturday, Aug. 27: Dillard student evacuees on their way
“It looks like the storm is headed toward New Orleans and the Dillard students are on their way.” That’s the word from Dean of Student Life Lori Bradshaw. Local news reports show that the storm named Katrina is growing toward a Category 4, its monster path spread out over the Gulf of Mexico from central South Louisiana to Florida. The Dillard students, maybe five busloads this time, should arrive around midnight. The word isn’t all that surprising. Dillard students have already evacuated to the Centenary campus twice in the last year, only to return to an unscathed campus within a couple of days. Student life and public safety officials wait at the Gold Dome and Fitness Center all night long to greet and attend to the evacuees. KTBS-TV in Shreveport sets up a live broadcast for the following morning at 6:30 a.m. in the Gold Dome.
Sunday, Aug. 28: Evacuees arrive, some lose belongings as bus burns
As Public Relations Director Lynn Stewart arrives at the Gold Dome for the early morning newscast, the Dillard students are mostly milling about, still arranging bedding, pillows and belongings after arriving about an hour earlier. They had arrived some 12 hours after leaving New Orleans, a drive which in normal times would have taken five to six hours. The Dillard students in the Gold Dome represent about half of some 235 Dillard evacuees at Centenary, with the other half settling in at the Fitness Center. The news crew tells Stewart that one of the buses traveling in the Dillard caravan caught on fire and burned to the ground near Baton Rouge, destroying what little the students on that bus had brought with them. A Dillard student, Tahirah Rasheed of Oakland, Calif., who is traveling on another bus, has even videotaped the burning bus. The news crew gets film of her video. The cameraman also notes that the storm has increased to a Category 5, the strongest and most deadly ranking of all, and is expected to hit land in about 24 hours. Stewart learns that Centenary students and staff awaiting the buses’ arrival had been alerted by cell phone about the fire. Director of Public Safety Zeke Aull, Dean of Students Lori Bradshaw and others had spent the wee hours of the morning gathering supplies for those who had been aboard the burned bus: Pillows from Wal-Mart Bossier City, toiletries from the Sheriff’s Department, blankets from Willis-Knighton Medical Center and LSU Health Sciences Center, places with people on duty all night.
News crews from other stations begin to arrive and before local church services are out, the word has spread about the 37 Dillard University students who lost their belongings on the way to Shreveport. Calls offering help begin to pour in, even as cars begin arriving at the Gold Dome with clothing, bedding, bottled water, food and toiletries. The offices of the Centenary Chaplain (Rev. Betsy Eaves) and Church Relations (Mimi McDowell) coordinate and organize a room filled with the donations. The community response is prompt and heartwarming. Chaplain Eaves’s call to Centenary students for help receiving the donations is met with instant response as student volunteers turn out in force.
Little does anyone know that the needs that day are just the tip of the iceberg.
As the Dillard students plug in their cell phones, send emails to their families from their own laptops or library computers, and settle in for the duration, news reports tell of local hotels beginning to fill to capacity and public shelters getting packed. Gas stations are reporting lines.
Some churches invite the Dillard evacuees to evening services. Stewart posts the first of daily updates on the college’s web site.
Monday, Aug. 29: Katrina ’sideswipes’ New Orleans, ’bullet dodged’ supposedly
In the morning, students, faculty and staff gather around televisions as Hurricane Katrina roars ashore. Soon it appears to sideswipe the bowl-shaped City of New Orleans and veer slightly to the east. New Orleanians are relieved even as they express concern for neighboring areas toward Mississippi, which bear the brunt of the winds. The word is that the Crescent City has once again dodged the bullet.
Local shelters report they are nearing capacity and some stations are running out of gas. Activities are planned at Centenary and elsewhere for those displaced by the storm.
Because communications are knocked out in coastal areas and Centenary has web postings, the Centenary News Services and others begin to field non-stop telephone calls from national news media as well as Dillard parents, alumni, staff and friends. Before the week is out they will have spoken with Good Morning America, the New York Times, Newsweek, Los Angeles Times, Reuters, the Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Education and numerous others.
Tuesday, Aug. 30: Levees begin to fail, bowl starts to fill
State residents awaken to news that the New Orleans levees are failing and the bowl that is New Orleans begins to fill. Though Hurricane Katrina’s damage is widespread throughout southeastern Louisiana and along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, much of the news begins to focus on New Orleans, whose underwater demise has been predicted for years “if a hurricane ever hits just right.”
The Rev. Don Meeks of Centenary’s Center for Theological Studies begins offering crisis and grief counseling at the Red Cross Shelter at LSUS.
Wednesday, Aug. 31: No quick trip home for evacuees or students
By day’s end, it is determined that the Dillard students won’t be returning to their campus within a few days. Centenary establishes an account for contributions to Dillard and works with their officials to help their students return to their homes. They expect to hear news of restarting fall semester classes within a couple of weeks.
Students, faculty and staff begin volunteer work at Red Cross shelters located at LSUS and Hirsch Coliseum.
A series of Hurricane Katrina web pages is posted on Centenary’s web site. They give updates on displaced students and alumni, relate storm stories and list volunteer and contribution opportunities.
Alumnus and professional golfer Hal Sutton ’81 and wife Ashley begin visits to local shelters and purchase supplies for shelter residents.
Centenary alumna Jessica Stewart ’01, a staff assistant for Congressman Jim McCrery, emails the alumni office to offer assistance.
Thursday, Sept. 1: 30% of Centenary students are from affected areas
As the magnitude of the devastation and needs of the victims continues to grow, Centenary works to help its own students from the affected areas, an estimated 30 percent of the student body. Some students are unable to contact their parents or other loved ones. A fund is established for affected Centenary students.
A Centenary bus heads north through the Midwest to Chicago, dropping off displaced Dillard students with friends and relatives along the way.
Lake Bethlehem Baptist Church sends buses to Atlanta, Dallas and Houston, and purchases plane tickets for other Dillard students going home.
A motion picture scouting team, displaced from New Orleans, tours campus for possible locations. They mark the first of half a dozen such visits by television and motion picture crews relocating their productions to North Louisiana.
Last year’s commencement speaker and previous Attaway Fellow Mark Fischetti makes a number of media appearances due to his 2001 Scientific American article predicting a New Orleans disaster and describing how to prevent it. He appears on CNN’s Lou Dobbs and NBC’s Meet the Press and writes an op-ed piece for the Sept. 2 New York Times.
Friday, Sept. 2: Everyone pitches in; volunteers turn out in force
The Chaplain’s Office coordinates a donation drive to purchase supplies for hurricane victims.
Students, faculty and staff walk three blocks from campus to KTBS-TV where they help receive relief supplies and then travel with trucks to unload them to storage containers.
The Centenary Book Bazaar announces that it will accept canned goods for the Food Bank and donations for the Red Cross at its annual event the following weekend.
Alumnus Patrick Fertitta coordinates a phone bank locally called “Share Your Home.”
Due to a large number of inquiries, Centenary extends its fall enrollment period until Tuesday, Sept. 6, to accommodate students displaced from several New Orleans campuses.
Rumors are quashed about a group of Dillard students that reportedly had been trying to weather the storm in New Orleans and were unable to be rescued. It is reported that a Dillard staff member and some 50 students waded through flood waters, were picked up on an Interstate highway overpass and were safe at the Houston Astrodome.
Three Austrian medical students, displaced from New Orleans to LSU Health Sciences Center in Shreveport, make their way to Chaplain Betsy Eaves’s office. They end up spending the Labor Day weekend at the home of Kelsey ’05 and DeAndre ’04 Johnson before finding housing with the help of John Wesley White ’98 and wife Serena. The Johnsons and Whites collected furniture, linens and kitchen appliances for the students with the help of Lue Hamrick of the chaplain’s Office and donations from Kings Highway Christian Church.
Saturday, Sept. 3: College posts Dillard’s first web announcement
On behalf of Dillard University, Centenary posts on its web site Dillard President Marvalene Hughes’s first statement about Dillard’s status and distributes it widely to news media.
Dr. Vicki LeFevers, professor of health and exercise science, coordinates a group of volunteers helping to unload relief supplies at a Salvation Army receiving location on Jewella Avenue.
Centenary students put together health kits and flood buckets at the Religious Life Center to send to hurricane victims.
A portion of the proceeds from the Border Blast high school football event, coordinated by Centenary alumnus Michael Finnegan ’92, is dedicated to the Centenary fund. President Ken Schwab, Chaplain Betsy Eaves and Centenary student Carrie Weber and her evacuee mother Heidi Weber of Slidell, La., appear briefly on Fox Sports Net during the game.
Sunday, Sept. 4: All Dillard evacuees find more permanent locations
All of the Dillard evacuees are relocated to family or housed with alumni or friends in the area, announces Mimi McDowell, director of church relations, who has spent all week working with the evacuees.
Two officials from Dillard, Vice President Freddye Hill and Housing official Gail Taylor, who eventually learn that their homes are lost, remain in Centenary housing. (Note: Their stay ends up lasting the entire fall semester.) They operate out of Centenary offices first in the Gold Dome and later in the Chaplain’s Office. Dr. Hill now resides with the Dillard student body in the Riverside Hilton Hotel. The Taylors are now divided among a FEMA trailer at their homesite and an residence near Mr. Taylor’s employer, the New Orleans Times Picayune.)
Monday, Sept. 5: Labor Day–a respite, a time to volunteer
Several members of the Centenary family use the day to volunteer at shelters.
Tuesday, Sept. 6: 14 Displaced students from Dillard, Loyola, Tulane, UNO register for fall at Centenary
Fourteen students from New Orleans are admitted to Centenary. Five each are from Tulane and Loyola, two are from Dillard, one is from the University of New Orleans and one was a displaced New Orleans student who had not been currently enrolled.
Friday, Sept. 9: College hosts community meeting seeking solutions
Centenary President Ken Schwab hosts a community meeting to discuss the area’s immediate and long-term concerns, needs, impact and opportunities, especially how to find homes for those in shelters and how to help them get funds to purchase necessities. (It is the first of several sessions, including a second community meeting and a recent FEMA-sponsored Louisiana Recovery Day event, seeking answers to disaster issues.)
The annual Centenary Book Bazaar goes ahead as scheduled but collects monetary donations for the Red Cross and canned goods for the Food Bank during the two-day event in the Gold Dome.
===Thursday, Sept. 22: Unthinkable: Another monster storm threatens
Unbelievably, another monster storm threatens the Louisiana-Texas coast. Due to overflowing shelters and the shortage of local housing, Centenary announces that its Fitness Center will be open for those in the Centenary family who need a roof overhead as they weather Hurricane Rita. A few families begin to arrive.
With the images of Hurricane Katrina fresh on everyone’s minds, Rita is the impetus for a campus meeting. Dubbed the Rita Impact Planning meeting, the gathering calls together public safety, housing, dining, information technology and facilities officials. Although Shreveport is usually well removed from physical effects of hurricanes, this one is predicted to be of tropical storm strength as far north as Shreveport. Forecasters also expect it to stall over Northwest Louisiana and East Texas. Flooding and power outages appear likely. The group puts a closure plan together for presentation the following day to the college’s Executive Staff, depending on the forecast the following morning.
Several portable generators, though hard to come by, are ordered by public safety and facilities staff.
Friday, Sept. 23: With Katrina memories fresh, Rita response is swift
At 7 a.m. Rita is a Category 4 hurricane, with maximum winds of 140 m.p.h. and headed toward the Southwest Louisiana-Southeast Texas coasts. As it travels inland it is expected to produce rainfall accumulations of 8 to 12 inches, with isolated maximum amounts of 15 inches. Since it is expected to slow down significantly after making landfall, total accumulations in excess of 25 inches are possible over the next several days across East Texas and Western Louisiana with an additional 3 to 5 inches over Southeast Louisiana, including New Orleans. Isolated tornados are possible as well.
President Ken Schwab, upon the recommendation of the staff, decides to close the campus immediately following the noon dedication ceremonies for the newly renovated Moore Student Union Building. Following a slightly windy and overcast ribbon-cutting ceremony, Schwab announces the closing and advises those who could do so safely to travel to their homes. No one is to travel to the west or the south. Those remaining are to take shelter in specified campus areas. The closure extends until noon on Tuesday, Sept. 22.
All events on campus are cancelled, including Parents and Family Weekend, which was to extend through Sunday. All buildings except residence halls and the Fitness Center are closed.
Officials make arrangements to shut down the entire computer network system and to post notices on the athletics web site, gocentenary.com, which is housed at an off-campus location. Voicemail updates are also scheduled at three telephone numbers. KSCL, the campus radio station, is asked to make announcements on the hour.
Saturday, Sept. 24: Everyone hunkers down as Rita blows through
Strong winds and rains pummel the campus and the surrounding area. Although the campus doesn’t lose power, many areas of the city lose electricity. Trees, traffic lights and utility poles are down in several areas.
Sunday, Sept. 25: Campus is unsettled by Rita
On a clear, sunshiny day, Vice President for Finance and Administration Bill Ballard issues this statement following Tropical Storm Rita:
“The campus came through the storm relatively unscathed. There are a number of small limbs and minor debris down. Two trees fell—one in Crumley Gardens and another hit Cline Hall with only damage to the gutters. No power outages occurred
“No flooding was noted. A number of small leaks occurred throughout the campus buildings. Facilities will be working to clean up these situations.
“The computer networks, including Resnet, Banner, Blackboard and Internet are up and running.
“AEP-SWEPCO, the local electric utility, will be housing 150 or so linemen out of the Fitness Center beginning today until power is restored in the Shreveport-Bossier area. They are providing all their own supplies so campus disruption should be minimal. However, due to their usage, the Fitness Center will be closed at least through Tuesday.
“Thanks for your patience and understanding during this time.”
Tuesday, Sept. 26: Campus reopens, more students from S. Louisiana, S.E. Texas coasts
The campus reopens at noon. The College works to determine the status of students’ families from Southwest Louisiana and Southeast Texas coastal areas.
Relief effort continues ...
The ensuing months since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have been filled with numerous relief efforts on behalf of Centenary students, whose homes and families have been affected, and for the larger community and state as well. Centenary was the host of two community forums, gathering citizen input and proposing solutions, and was the Northwest Louisiana site for the Louisiana Recovery Day meetings in January. The following two pages present student Carrie Weber’s photographs of Centenary students helping out in hurricane ravaged Slidell, La. Another group of students, also coordinated by Chaplain Eaves, will volunteer during Mardi Gras break as well. The needs are great and the relief effort continues.