When we first visited Tulane University, where our son is now a senior, in 2008, Hurricane Katrina was on many a parent’s mind, and at the information session, school officials tackled the issue head-on by acknowledging the concern and discussing their emergency plans. Katrina shut Tulane for the entire fall semester of 2005 and students scattered across the country to take classes elsewhere. When the Class of 2009 graduated, those who had been newly arrived freshman when the storm hit, it was dubbed “The Class of Katrina.”
Every year that Danny has returned to campus during hurricane season, we’ve wondered, could it happen again?
But we’ve never regretted his decision to go there; New Orleans is the most distinctive American city. We consider it part of his broader education to be living there and have grown, over the course of many visits, not just to love it, but to care about it.
As Hurricane Isaac edged towards Florida, we started paying attention but, according to the news, only one computer model was forecasting possible landfall near New Orleans. As that started to change, two of Danny’s roommates drove to Tennessee. (He lives just off campus with four other guys.) And his girlfriend Libby and her housemates drove to Houston.
By the time we learned all this it was, for all practical purposes, too late to leave the city and there was no evacuation order for New Orleans, as there had been for Katrina. That was somewhat reassuring, as was the $14 billion levee and flood protection system that’s been built around the city since 2005.
Why he decided to stay, as did two of his other housemates, we’re not quite sure. But he texted us that they had stocked up on food that didn’t need refrigeration – the power was almost sure to go out and it did – and water. Losing power was also going to mean limited communication because even if cell service remained operational, he’d need to conserve battery power on his phone. There was little we could do but wait and hope that all would be well. We didn’t feel panicky, just powerless.
Early in the storm, well before the worst arrived, he texted that the power had already gone out. We asked him to stay in touch as best he could and kept our eyes on the news reports.
Tuesday night into Wednesday, Isaac bore down on New Orleans and we began to think of little pieces of advice we texted to him, unsure if or when he’d get them.
“Don’t be tempted to go outside just to see how hard the wind is blowing,” I wrote. “You could get hit by flying debris.” “Stay away from the windows and close the curtains so if the glass breaks it won’t go flying.” “When the storm’s over, watch out for downed power lines.” I knew it was about as useful as telling a kid to “drive carefully,” something said more for your own benefit than theirs.
On Wednesday he texted again and said, perhaps a bit hyperbolically, that it “looked like the end of the world” outside. But each text sounded calm and we were just glad for each message spaced hours apart. The last text (as of this writing) came Wednesday night.
Everything was fine and he thought power would be restored sometime on Thursday, though the basis of his optimism is unclear.
What is clear is that no matter how old the child and how capable, they are forever our little ones to worry about and try to protect.