Lauren Leonard is no stranger to hurricanes. The Houma native’s hurricane memories date back to 2005, when Hurricane Katrina devastated southeast Louisiana.
Leonard, a digital advertising senior, still didn’t understand the destruction a hurricane could wreak — until Hurricane Ida.
Hurricane Ida made landfall near Port Fourchon as a Category 4 storm on August 29 – the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina – with sustained winds of 150 mph. It was the fifth strongest storm to hit the continental United States, wreaking havoc from Louisiana to New York.
“When you see these stories about tragedies happening to people, you think, ‘this will never happen to me,'” Leonard said. “But when it’s you, it’s almost hard to really understand. I see pictures on the news of buildings I would go to every day or streets I drove and I’m like, “Oh, that’s what they went through.”
LSU students from across southeast Louisiana expressed difficulty understanding the destruction of Hurricane Ida. As power outages persist in the hardest hit areas, such as Terrebonne Parish, Lafourche Parish, and River Parishes, students and their families are left uncertain about the future as they begin to rebuild.
University classes resumed after about a week’s hiatus to allow students to return from evacuation sites and assess damage to their homes. Many students, however, said returning to campus was not their top priority.
“School is the last thing on my mind right now,” said Jonah Brock, a native of Prairieville. “I have a million other problems that we have to go through with all my family. [besides] at work or school.
Although the city neighbors Baton Rouge, last-minute changes in Hurricane Ida’s direction made the storm more devastating than expected for Prairieville, with the first hurricane-related death reported there after landfall. a tree on a house. according to the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office.
Sleeping through the storm was a test of patience for Brock, who evacuated to his aunt’s house just a few miles from her home. He was buoyed by thoughts of debris slamming into his bedroom – right next to where a fallen tree ended up destroying his front patio and much of the roof of his family’s home.
The first estimate for the house to be habitable is four months, he said.
“It’s going to be a while before we get back on our feet and are able to go back to our own home,” the history sophomore said. “This entire semester, I will be dislocated.”
Less than a day after Hurricane Ida left the state, the university announced make-up days for the week of classes missed, either on Saturdays or during fall vacation.
New Orleans native and political communications student Ryan Castellon learned the news a few days later while he and his family were staying in Mississippi. He said he understood why the university made the decision to announce make-up days, but wanted the university to budget for more weather-related cancellations in the future.
“Sometimes steps are taken to prepare for inclement weather, but it doesn’t really seem like the university is preparing for the inevitable weather shutdowns that happen every year and we all know they’re coming,” Castellon said.
LSU Provost Matthew Lee said the university is announcing make-up days as soon as possible to give students, faculty and staff time to adjust their schedules.
“Our accrediting body requires us to meet a specific number of student contact hours, and so when we lose days, we usually have to make it up,” Lee said. “We use days from fall break, but also recognize that some students and faculty may have had plans already.”
These catch-up days will take place virtually, Lee said.
Castellon originally planned to stay in his Baton Rouge apartment, weathering the storm while doing laundry and taking naps. Calls from his family asking him to change his plans soon flooded his phone.
Castellon’s family always considered evacuation an option of last resort, even during hurricanes Katrina and Gustav – although, as he said, “this storm was different.”
“All of a sudden, I’m going back to New Orleans, only to leave again the next morning for some random place in Mississippi until [Sept. 1]”Castello said.
He said the damage to his home was minor compared to Katrina’s: water formed on the ground and shingles here and there flew off the roof. Their shutters have been torn apart by the winds.
Although Terrebonne Parish students had less happy experiences returning home, where power is not expected to be restored for the majority of residents until September 29, Houma, its largest city, has had some of the worst destruction caused by the hurricane.
“It was so hard to see places that don’t look the same from a distance. I’m not looking forward to the emotional consequences of coming back,” Leonard said. “I almost feel guilty for being [in Baton Rouge] now.”
Mass communications junior Tyler Johnson was surprised his childhood home in Houma suffered only minor damage compared to the rest of the city, where roads are ‘untouchable’ due to downed power lines . Half of its roof was damaged, with only a few trees scraping the exterior.
“I’ve seen images of buildings completely torn in half,” he said. “My friend’s neighbour, his house was completely cut in half. It’s like a doll’s house that you can open.
For Johnson, who continued to work at Lighthouse Coffee in Baton Rouge when half the state was without power, the scariest part of the storm was the cellular and Wi-Fi outages that disconnected him from his close for days.
“It was mostly worry because I was talking to them for five minutes and not talking to them again for two days,” he said. “It freaked me out because for days I didn’t know if [my girlfriend or parents were] okay, if something happened because there was no service.
While students may not have to deal with such severe damage to their Baton Rouge residences, the cost of repairing their childhood homes and assisting with family recovery will be the main source of their concern.
Castellon said he’ll likely have to get used to his parents living out of state instead of being just an hour’s drive from New Orleans – something he says will add to his anxiety. to aid in the recovery despite his apartment near campus remaining unscathed.
“There’s a kind of double-edged anxiety about living in two places that are both directly in the storm’s path,” he said. “He went through New Orleans and [then I had to] worried about my apartment in Baton Rouge.
When the power went out in southeast Louisiana, the gas stations people rushed to run their generators — the places Castellon called the “epicenter of anxiety” — became iconic. of the anxiety people felt during the hurricane. Wait times at some gas stations have increased to as much as four hours, according to student testimonies.
Despite weeks of uncertainty behind them and more to come, college students across southeast Louisiana said they are seeing the best of humanity in their hometowns, even as the lights remain dim in due to the decrease in the power of the generators and that the trees continue to be on the roads and on the roofs.
Leonard said his grandfather’s friends cooked all day for their neighbors and strangers in need. While repairing his roof, his father encountered help from complete strangers who were passing by.
“Seeing the humanity that has come out of my own community and other Louisiana communities is what makes me love Louisiana so much,” Leonard said.
Corbin Ross contributed to this report.