For as long as there are occasional ill winds, those who experienced it will remember September 2005, with Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Forgotten, but worthy of its own spot in the book of urban turmoil is Hurricane Gustav which happened during that same timeframe a decade ago in 2008.
Saturday, August 30 of that year we had had dinner in the Quarter. Walking back to a friend’s home there was talk of a hurricane that could be heading our way, but nothing definite yet. Still, there was an eeriness in the Quarter.
Because it was Labor Day weekend, the streets echoed with partying late into the evening. Some of the frivolity had an edge that stirred thoughts if not of Sodom and Gomorrah, then at least Sodom.
At Jackson Square, television trucks from the various networks had moved in as though to witness a biblical-sized disaster. Their bright spotlights shined against the Presbytere. The breeze that night seemed like a prelude to a storm.
I arrived home in time to watch the extended TV hurricane coverage and to hear one local public official say, while sobbing, that this was going to be worse than Katrina and that there might only be two buildings left standing in the city.
At that moment I felt more sad than scared. In the three years since Katrina, so many of us had endured and rebuilt the city. We were reaching the point where our town was reclaiming its glory…now this. I thought about this company, Renaissance Publishing, which was born in the wake of Katrina, and which was doing better than could have been expected, but now it might be coming to an end. Ours was not a recovery that could likely be repeated again so soon.
Even in the face of horror, I managed to doze off for a while. Bob Breck, the TV meteorologist had a distinguished career guiding us through tropical events. But I will always remember him best for what he said, as I resumed my TV watching at 7 a.m. on Sunday morning, August 31. The storm, according to Breck, had weakened overnight and had changed its path away from directly hitting New Orleans. We were going to survive.
Later that day, we headed to Baton Rouge, just as a precaution, and because we had family there. Three years earlier Interstate-10 on the Sunday before Katrina had been so jammed that traffic creeped along from New Orleans to Lafayette.
On this day, the road was traffic-free. We zoomed along on our own racecourse.
Ironically, Baton Rouge would get more tropical activity than New Orleans. The storm left the capital as a Category One and then limped along as a tropical depression.
Gustav had created havoc in the Caribbean and coastal Texas, but we got off easy. The TV trucks at Jackson Square were gone by the next day. All the city’s buildings were still standing. There would be no apocalypse, at least not then. Now we could return to telling Katrina stories.