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A Double Dose Of Ida: Tense Times at Tulane

businessschool1Broken glass and downed trees at the Tulane Business School.After a year of remote learning, social distancing, masks and COVID scares, it’s fair to say that seniors in the SHS class of 2021 were hoping to have a normal introduction to their freshman year in college.

Even their college application process was out of the ordinary. Some, like Julia Gurden SHS ’21, never got the chance to visit the schools on her list and had to decide where to go to college based on virtual tours. So when it was time to actually go to college, the entire Gurden family decided to travel to New Orleans to tour the city, sample the cuisine and give a “normal” send-off to their college freshman who would be attending Tulane.

The Gurdens arrived in New Orleans a few days before the dorm move-in date and visited the French Quarter, Bourbon Street, Audubon Park and had some great meals. Though the weather was steamy, they toured, explored and got a fix on what New Orleans was all about.

On move-in day, Julia’s dad and sister flew back to New York, while her mother helped her set up her dorm room on the Tulane campus. They haddormroomAll set for classes to begin: Julia Gurden in her dorm room at Tulane. anticipated every need and designed the room in shades of lavender and violet, with curtains, a rug, matching comforter and many stuffed animals and pillows. She had a calendar to keep her organized, plenty of school supplies, a flashlight and a refrigerator and microwave, which proved to be essential in the weeks to come.

The initial week of orientation was fun. Gurden enjoyed a host of orientation events with free snow cones, free burgers, and a great night of music. She met people from California to Maine and lots of fellow New Yorkers, many, like her, from Westchester.

On Monday August 30 school began, and Gurden got organized and dove into the required reading and multiple assignments that were given in the first few days of classes. Though the material did not seem to be more challenging than what she had encountered at Scarsdale High School, there was a lot of it and the pace was swift.

Toward the end of that week, she started to hear about an impending Hurricane. First it was a tropical storm, then perhaps a Category 1 and then her teachers began to ask their students about their plans for the hurricane. Would they stay in the dorm? Evacuate? Some of the students were making plans to drive to Houston or even Florida – but for the kids from the Northeast, an easy escape was not feasible.

stormwatchGurden's mother was monitoring the storm from New York.Gurden had been scheduled to go on a kayak trip with an outdoor adventure group that Sunday, but her mom called and said that she doubted that would happen.

Initially the school predicted that the hurricane would hit 90 miles from New Orleans and told the students not to be too concerned. But as Friday turned into Saturday, the storm was upgraded to a Category 4, and the school was sending out multiple warnings. Gurden’s Sociology teacher told the class on Friday that if it was a category 3 storm she would stay, but if it was a Category 4 she would leave town. She promised to email them to let them know her decision.

Some of her classmates attempted to evacuate by car and plane but got stuck in hours of traffic and turned back or missed their flights due to the logjam.

On Saturday, with the storm in sight, the school instructed students who were staying to stock up on food and drinks and sent shuttle buses to the dorms to transport students to Walmart for supplies. Gurden couldn’t believe the scene at Walmart. There were no more shopping carts so she grabbed a box she found on the floor and collected some hot pockets and snacks to tide her over. People were grabbing everything on the shelves and Gurden wondered if they thought the world was coming to an end. She watched as locals filled their carts with beer and alcohol and quickly saw how they planned to ride out the storm Louisiana-style.

Her mother instructed her to buy duct tape, and though she thought that sounded extreme, she listened. When she returned to the dorm she taped the windows she could reach and thought she was safe.

But then alarms started to ring and she was receiving warnings of up to nine feet of flooding and high winds. At that point, it was too late to leave.

hallwaygamesStudents passed the hours playing games in the hallways.Not knowing what to expect she went to sleep on Saturday night and woke up to the sound of gusts of wind on her window on Sunday morning. At that point she really wished she had a roommate, because she was alone in her room and frightened. Most of the other students and the Resident Advisor had evacuated from the girls’ hall and only five students remained. At first it was just gray and windy, but then the winds picked up and torrential rains began. She could see from her windows that the power was out in the city, but the universities generators kicked on and on Sunday they still had power and air conditioning in the dorm.

At that point, an RA from the boys side knocked on her door and instructed her to move into the hallway, away from the windows as they feared they would shatter. She took some games and a blanket into the boys hallway, where the remaining students huddled and played hours of “Truth or Dare” and “Never Have I Ever.” She had never met most of these students but got to know them rather quickly.stormnotice

One boy got tired and stretched out with his bedding and went to sleep on the floor of the hall. She could see debris flying outside and she ventured up to the eleventh floor of the building in the elevator where she could feel the tower swaying and watched water sloshing in a glass from the building’s vibrations.

From texts they learned that others had to be evacuated from their dorms as a large construction crane was on campus for renovations and it posed a risk to the dormitory where these students were housed. They were told to stay in the lunchroom on the floor. They received pictures from other students of shattered windows and water flooding the dorms.

Periodically they heard loud explosions and were told that these were transformers blowing up nearby.

After hours in the hallway, Gurden returned to her room and was dismayed to find that her floor was soaked. She looked up and found water pouring in from the window above her bed that she had not taped. The rain appeared to be coming in horizontally. When she stepped down on the floor she noticed it was very hot and smelled something was burning in her room. It turned out that an outlet in the floor had shorted out and was frying a hole in the carpet.

marriottpoolThe Marriott in HoustonShe managed to sleep in the wet room and woke up Monday morning and was told that a hot breakfast was available in the cafeteria. She ventured over there and was relieved to be able to have a meal.

However, when she got back to her room, she decided to take her wet bedding down to the laundry room to attempt to dry it out. The laundry room was open and the dryers were working so she was in luck!

But by Monday at 11am things took a turn for the worse. With no warning the power went out. That meant there was no light, air conditioning, elevators and the key card security system was disabled. The first floor of the dorm was flooded with six inches of water and the air was hot, sultry, steamy and very uncomfortable. Panicked, Gurden rushed down the stairs to the basement, hoping to retrieve her bedding from the dryer. She got some of it and left the laundry room only to realize that the door had locked behind her. In an instant she knew that the rest of her laundry would never be recovered.

The world seemed to close around her. There was broken glass, fallen trees, and a telephone pole had fallen into the river. The Wifi was gone and with no power the students realized their phones would soon die. Despair set in and Gurden wondered what would happen to her. Her room was swampy and a stench arose from the wet carpet. She knew that it would soon be uninhabitable, but she had nowhere to go.

Later that afternoon, Gurden got a text on Whats App from her mother letting her know that the university had announced plans to evacuate the school. Though the text was sent to the students as well, many had lost phone service and failed to receive the notice from the university.

Gurden was instructed to pack up her things and report to an open field on Tuesday morning for a trip via Coach bus to Houston. From there, her mother would make her a plane reservation to fly back to New York. It was not anticipated that the students would return to campus any time soon.

The dorm was pitch black, the floor was soaked and Gurden struggled to find the clothing, devices, chargers, textbooks and materials she would need for the next few weeks. It was eerie to look out her window at downtown New Orleans, a city that parties all night, and see no lights. She wondered how she would be able to sleep in her damp, steamy, smelly wet room, so she took an ice cold shower and managed to fall asleep for a few hours before waking up in a puddle of sweat.

On Tuesday, she dragged her suitcases and belongings to the field and waited in line for a few hours with hundreds of other students to be admitted to the cool Coach buses. The university scanned each student’s ID to be able to track their journeys on the 32 bus caravan.

Led by a police escort, the bus ride to Houston, usually a four hour trip, took seven hours. At one point they stopped for food, but only found snacks in vending machines.

Once in Houston, things looked up. Tulane alumni had arranged for the evacuees to stay at a large and luxurious Marriott hotel. The kids stretchedMarriottSafe and dry in Houston. out in clean, air conditioned rooms, swam in the hotel pool and treated themselves to a nice dinners out. The school asked the students to make plans to travel home from the hotel, offering them up to seven nights of free accommodations until they could leave.

Gurden’s mother had reserved her a flight at 2 pm the following day, (Wednesday), but that was cancelled. Hurricane Ida was due to hit New York Wednesday night and the airlines were getting prepared. Frantic for Julia to get home before Ida touched down in Scarsdale, her mother spent three hours on the phone with Delta and got her onto a 6 am flight on Wednesday morning to Atlanta with a connection to New York.

Gurden got up at 3 am to get to the airport for the early morning flight and landed in New York at noon on Wednesday September 1, just hours before the deluge hit Scarsdale.

She was so exhausted and relieved to be home that she got into bed and slept through the entire storm in New York. She woke up to realize that Ida had followed her home, flooding Scarsdale, closing schools and wreaking more havoc in her path.

She’s been home for a week now and is awaiting the resumption of classes online on Monday. Again she will be doing remote learning until Tulane can clean up the storm damage, repair the windows and permit students to return to campus, hopefully in early October.

She says, “It was a once in a lifetime thing that I will never forget. I lived through the hurricane in two different states …. I would not have made it without calls and texts from my Mom.”

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