Precaution was taken as New Orleans and its surrounding areaswere spared a destructive, tragic monster that was just too closeof a call.
Hurricane Ivan was a storm that could not be taken lightly. Thecategory 5 hurricane had already been responsible for deaths andbillions of dollars of reconstruction in the Caribbean and Jamaicabefore he made his way into the Gulf of Mexico early last week.
Whenever any hurricane gets in the Gulf, area meteorologists putthe entire state population on guard-especially those who dwell insoutheast Louisiana.
Ivan threatening the Gulf Coast, weakened to a category 4, butstill packed winds of up to 140 mph and gusts of up to 165 mph.Paths from National Hurricane Center projected areas to be hit fromthe mouth of the Mississippi River at New Orleans to the Floridapan handle-all were uncertain until the very nail-biting end.
The truth is no one knew for certain where the storm was headedbut Ivan himself.
Thousands of Louisianans heeded the pleas of New Orleans MayorC. Ray Nagin and other parish presidents of southeast Louisiana toget out as soon as possible. A voluntary evacuation was put inplace on Tuesday, Sept. 14 for Orleans and Jefferson Parishes, withmandatory evacuations for low-lying areas like St Bernard Parishand places that sit on the water like Grand Isle and Venice.
“This is a very dangerous storm,” said Mayor Nagin at a jointpress conference with the other parish presidents at City Hall thatTuesday. Nagin also said he was not at all comfortable with theposition of the storm on Tuesday and did not want to “let our guarddown.”
By Tuesday, Sept. 14, New Orleans and surrounding areas wereunder a hurricane warning
At this point the storm was traveling NNW, a direction whichtoggled left and right until Ivan made landfall in Gulf Shores,Ala. with a direct hit, Thursday morning, Sept. 16.
Trying to get out
As soon as the news broke Monday, Sept. 13 around rush-hourtime, gas stations were overrun with customers. Lines were backedup onto Elysian Fields, filled with patrons trying to fill-up theircars at the Exxon station.
Grocery stores were being wiped out by the droves. Theessentials were: bread, water, batteries, flashlights,non-perishable food items, security boxes for important papers andmore. Hardware stores could not keep the plywood on the shelves aslast minute preparedness steps were taking place.
“The window of opportunity to leave the city is quicklyclosing,” said Mayor Nagin at one of his press conferences heldduring the storm.
Area news broadcasters described the interstates as “parkinglots” on Tuesday after the voluntary evacuation was called.
A contra flow of traffic was headed by the Louisiana StatePolice Department and was placed in affect late Tuesday afternoon.Both lanes on Interstate 55 were going west according to ChiefTerry Tullier, Ofice of Emergency Preparedness New Orleans.
Short one-hour trips to places like Baton Rouge, La. became 10plus hour eternities on Interstates 10 and 55. Some Dillardstudents who were even traveling out of state saw their tripsextended also.
Students, on and off-campus at Dillard, were told by officialsthat they had to leave by noon on Tuesday. They were later informedthat classes would resume on Monday, Sept. 20.
Some off-campus students were not worried about the bad trafficbeing a factor.
“I was trying to wait to decide what the school was going todo,” said Tracey Shepherd, a senior economics and finance majorfrom Houston, Texas.
Shepherd said Dillard officials took too long to cancel classesin 2002 for Tropical Storms Lili and Isidore. Shepherd said shewent home during the week and classes resumed earlier than sheexpected and missed two days of class.
Now, Shepherd resides in Metairie along with some other Dillardstudents. She and a caravan of five cars left at 6 a.m. onTuesday.
Dillard also provided an evacuation shelter for those studentswho could not leave instantaneously. About 60 Dillard students weretaken to Centenary College in Shreveport, La.
The students were welcomed and put at ease for those who hadnever been through a situation like this before according toFreddye Hill, Ph.D., vice president for campus life.
Area universities took the threat of Ivan seriously also.
There were about 250 students taken by bus to Louisiana TechUniversity in Ruston, La. according to Xavier University officials.Classes resumed on last Thursday.
Students at the University of New Orleans were given the headsup on Monday at about 4:30 p.m. Student Housing officials saidstudents had to evacuate by 2 p.m. on last Tuesday. UNO did nottake students to any shelter, but information was provided forthose who needed it. Classes resumed on Monday Sept. 20.
Tulane University officials reported there were about 120students who traveled to Jackson State University in Jackson, Miss.This was the first time the evacuation action was taken. Classesresumed Monday, as well.
Loyola University did not return phone calls upon presstime.
Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco declared a State of Emergency forsoutheast Louisiana on Wednesday so that FEMA may come in andprovide aid to those who needed it.
The Louisiana Superdome was open Wednesday at 11 a.m. and it wasfor special needs patients only. These were people who neededelectricity or medical care in order to survive according to KevinStephens, M.D., director of New Orleans’ Health Department.
Shelters in New Orleans were a big concern for citizens whocould not evacuate like the homeless and for those who neededmedical attention in order to survive.
Later on that afternoon, Mayor Nagin decided to open theSuperdome for those citizens who sought shelter as a lastresort.
Citizens were encouraged to board buses at area public schools,with identification, to be brought to the Superdome. Mayor Naginurged citizens not to drive to the Superdome because parking wouldnot be available.
Shelters were not opened immediately because Red Cross does notfacilitate shelters when the storm is above category 2 status,according to Mayor Nagin. He said he wanted to make sure that whereever he would open the shelter, it was going to be safe from thecategory 4 Ivan.
A citywide curfew was set at 2 p.m. last Wednesday by the NewOrleans Police Department. Supt. Eddie Compass urged citizens whoremained to call 911 for emergencies only. Jefferson Parish had acurfew of 6 p.m.
Airport traffic saw no cancellations on Tuesday according toMichelle Dufforc, spokeswoman for the Louis Armstrong InternationalAirport in Kenner, La. Flights were ceased on Wednesday and resumedon Thursday. Dufforc asked flyers to check with their airlinecarrier for further details about flight information.
After Ivan made a slight jog to head north, some parishes insoutheast Louisiana were affected. Heavy rains and wind damageswere experienced in St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parishes; and otherlow lying areas.
“I am proud to stand before you (and say) that this was anincredible effort to make sure our citizens were safe,” said MayorNagin at a post-hurricane press conference on last Thursday.
He also said he would facilitate a series of hurricane summitswith the public and other parishes to talk about the good points ofthe evacuation and improvements, so that e can bring these ideas tothe governor.
Chief Tullier said the tolls at Causeway and the Crescent CityConnection would be ceased until Monday. Alternative routes andmessage signs had been posted around the area. “We want to get youback as soon as possible,” he said.
Supt. Compass said almost 99 percent of the citizens respectedthe curfew on Wednesday. He also said five people were arrested forlooting and three people were caught on videotape and arewanted.
The curfew was lifted at 7 a.m. on Thursday.
Dan Packer, CEO and president of Entergy, reported there were anestimated 39,000 customers without power, with most of them in theNew Orleans East area. He assured power would be restored byThursday evening.
The only flooding reported, according to the mayor’s office, wason Lakeshore Drive, but water is expected to recede according toMayor Nagin. .
Mayor Nagin said the shelter at the Superdome was a smoothprocess compared to the last time it was opened in 1998 forHurricane Georges. The Superdome was damaged heavily by itsoccupants during the storm, but Nagin is confident that this willnot happen and said the Superdome would be a considerationagain.