Hurricane Isaac has come and gone and I once again have the privilege of being at work in Thomas Hall, and looking out over St. Charles Avenue in scenic uptown New Orleans. Audubon Park, just across the street, looks as bucolic as ever as a blond-haired mom stoops down to secure a curly-haired toddler from the playground’s swing and a runner, his face discernibly purple from this vantage point, races down the median of the avenue in search of a record time. The street car clicks pleasantly by, counting out for me another 10 minute stretch upon my time at Loyola, presiding both over this swath of St. Charles Avenue and our enrollment.
The storm, with many, many hours and days of warning, has come and gone. Some evacuated; some stayed. New Orleans, as it almost always is, was spared any real damage, save for the inconvenience of several days without electrical power. North of the city, towns without levees named Slidell, Mandeville, and Abita Springs took it on the chin and water from Lake Pontchairtrain poured into their homes. Same in LaPlace, 30 miles west of here; and in Plaquemines Parish, 60 miles south of uptown New Orleans.
Uptown New Orleans, where Loyola calls home, fared very well this time as it largely did when Katrina hit in 2005. The story was the same in 1965 when hurricane Betsy flooded the 9th Ward, but left uptown largely unscathed. We’re both lucky and very well positioned, on higher ground almost to the ridge of the river. Loyola’s campus, by most accounts and its successful experience in storms, is a hint above sea level.
This morning, reports have come in that serve as outliers to what I have written above: wind damage to a house in Mid-city, some water that – with the force of wind – made through to a ceiling in River Ridge, power still out for a few hundred about the city and surrounding parishes. But, Loyola is back in business and eager to educate and serve.
Watching the Weather channel and always spry and dramatic Jim Cantore from my hotel room in Tuscaloosa (we have two daughters, 5 and 3 months; it’s best to leave town when the power is going to go out), I found myself sad for the poor folks in Plaquemines Parish, who essentially serve as the first line when the Gulf waters swell. Many will not rebuild, realizing perhaps that the Gulf will always encroach on their homes, buffeted by storms with names.
In LaPlace and north of town, who can say what will happen next? The rarity of flooding in those locations should provide a cool balance to the hot torrents of water and emotion they lived through in the middle of last week.
As for New Orleans, we’re fine. Yes, as the banner that proudly announces Loyola’s one hundredth year sags in tatters from Marquette Hall, some of our students, staff, and faculty have messes to clean up, insurance claims to file, and, in rare cases, choices to make about their permanent addresses, but the news has mostly been good as we creep into September and all the blessings the autumn brings around here – Saints football, perfect weather, another spin through the academic cycle.
The lesson of any storm remains for all of us. Prepare and plan; and then, in the rare case that the hurricane comes your way, execute the plan. Some of our students – 650 or so – stayed on campus and did great as Loyola staff brilliantly tended to their needs and the students bonded and kept each other entertained. The rest of them headed back to where they came from or bunked up with local friends or family. Everyone is expected back to campus and in the classroom this week, the academic calendar feeling but a speed bump on its inexorable trek to December.
It’s my job to convince parents and students to consider Loyola University New Orleans for their educations, but I would do that even if it were not my job. I’ve riffed many times in the space on the value and virtues of what we offer here. I’ve spoken promisingly of uptown New Orleans, which is among the most beautiful places I have ever been. I mean every word of it. None of it is spin. My family and I live here – you’ll love it, too.
I can also speak well of the entire Gulf coast as a wonderful part of the country to be, as a great place to have a family. Towns like Gulfport and Ocean Springs and Pensacola see their share of storms, too. (And they are comprised of some of the nicest and most caring people on Earth.) Almost always these storms are minor inconveniences that blow through and life resumes.
It is possible the news media would have you see it another way, as Jim Cantore oddly braves the wind – and the sting of swirling gravel – on what was an almost completely unharmed Canal Street. Another reporter spends no less than one hour gawking at how the wind has turned around a STOP sign. An easy repair. Nothing to see here, folks, I’m thinking. Let’s move along and cover what’s unfolding 60 miles to the south.
Poor New Orleans. It makes for good TV as a category one hurricane bears down on it, but in the last few years other parts of our country have had to endure far worse constructions of nature – tornadoes in Tuscaloosa, Joplin, Kansas, and Western Massachusetts; major flooding in Wisconsin, Maryland, Massachusetts, Washington DC, New Jersey, Minnesota, Vermont, and Florida; devastating wild fires in South Dakota, California, Idaho, Washington, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Montana, Utah and Colorado. (This is not an exhaustive list; sadly, I could add many more recent events). Natural disasters can happen anywhere, at any time.
As we unpack Isaac, what has been and what it means, we give thanks for all the damage not sustained, for the way it has brought us closer to neighbors and friends and family, how we are again reminded that only love is permanent in an impermanent world. We give thanks for all the lives saved by first responders in Plaquemines Parish, and all the people who worked through the storm and in its aftermath to ready our homes, our streets, our power lines, and, certainly, our campuses.
With the simple wisdom of our first one hundred years behind us, Loyola proudly continues to offer this unique education in this truly inimitable city on the river.
From where I sit, we have never looked so good.