DEVILLE: Louisiana ‘presses on' in Katrina's wake

I have lived in the Baton Rouge area for just over four years now.

Two weeks after I moved to the capital city the last weekend of August 2001, our nation was rocked to its foundation with the horror of Sept. 11.


Now, four years later, our country has been dealt another huge blow. But this time, the tragedy was not thousands of miles away, but instead in our own backyard.


I can recall my roommate waking me up just before 7 a.m. that Tuesday morning with news of the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington D.C. On that day tragedy struck in the blink of an eye, last Monday, it was cold, calculated and came with plenty of warning.


For two days, we sat staring at a television screen watching this computer enhanced red mass growing in the Gulf of Mexico, inching its way closer and closer to southeast Louisiana and the Gulf Coast. In Baton Rouge, we prepared most of Sunday evening battening down the hatches, hoping, praying that the storm could turn, weaken –something.


But just after 6 a.m., the storm made landfall just east of Grand Isle. We watched on television as news reports began rolling in of 145 mph winds in Plaquemines Parish. By 7:30, the storm was making its way north toward New Orleans as we lost power (which did not return until almost 10 p.m. Thursday.)


On a battery-powered television in the darkness of Monday afternoon, early footage of Katrina's carnage began transmitting for just 70 miles away. It was reported the storm shifted just before landfall and New Orleans would be spared. However, a levee broke and the initial shots of New Orleans showed complete devastation. (Not to mention the destruction of the Gulf Coast, which we would learn about later.)


While the storm will go down as one of the most powerful ever, the aftermath makes Hurricane Katrina the worst storm in U.S. history. While the direct impact of the storm was bad, the days following proved to be much worse.


Scenes of flood victims wading the streets, looters, the horror of the Superdome and Convention Center swept the nation – and the world – leaving people glued to their televisions frozen from shock.


While the national media spent the days after the storm flooding the airwaves with reports of botched efforts by the state and federal governments, sensationalized hate and racism, the people of Louisiana and beyond reached out to the victims of the flood. The influx of refugees in the days following the storm grew Baton Rouge into the state's largest city. A million people were reported to be living in the capital city by the end of last week.


The growth of our city was overwhelming.


There were lines at the gas pumps stretching for blocks, people huddled on street corners and in parking lots, all with no place to go, no one to whom to turn. The scene was one of semi-chaos, one of not-knowing what would happen next. Everywhere you turn was - and still remains – a constant reminder of the tragedy that will affect, not only the state, but nation, for years to come.


Shelters were established in churches, rec centers, school gymnasiums across the state and beyond. The Maravich Center and Maddox Field House were transformed into a triage unit and special care facility as a swarm of helicopters transporting victims of the storm buzzed overhead day and night.


In amidst the commotion, the people of Louisiana forgot about something that usually fuels the heart of this Bayou State. Football is a religion in the south and anyone who has experienced a night in Tiger Stadium knows that the LSU Tigers is the cog of the wheel in Sportsman's Paradise.


However, in the aftermath of Katrina, the thought of opening the football season five days later versus North Texas seemed greatly insignificant. With many residents of the state unaware of the whereabouts of family members and several members of the LSU football team itself being in a sense homeless, university officials met Tuesday and decided to postpone the season opener.


Much like that September 11 in 2001 when LSU's SEC debut versus Auburn was postponed, chancellor Sean O'Keefe, athletic director Skip Bertman and coach Les Miles announced the game would be put off, the season on hold.


The decision was received by Tiger nation as the right one. How could a football game be celebrated with the ongoing carnage just a few miles down Interstate 10? Instead, fans reached out to the displaced New Orleans community with hundreds of people – including a wealth of LSU athletes – volunteering to work in area shelters. The outpouring of charity from the LSU community was overwhelming.


The first weekend of the college football season has now come and went. The lights of Louisiana college stadiums remained dark. The Tulane Green wave has sought refuge in Dallas, Texas on the campus of SMU. However, athletic director Rick Dickson said the season will go on. It is hard to imagine a team without a campus will press on.


Pressing on is important and is what everyone must do. Life will and must go on. This Sunday morning, it has not been decided if LSU will open its season versus the Arizona State Sun Devils in Tiger Stadium. The decision lies in the hands of Louisiana governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco.


However, a representative from LSU said the week will open with business as usual. Miles will host his weekly press luncheon on Monday, the team will practice and classes with open on Tuesday, Sept. 6. The Tiger football community will proceed with full intention of playing the Sun Devils Saturday night in Death Valley.


While the triage unit remains in the Maravich Center and the Field House is scheduled to be transformed into a 500-bed makeshift hospital, the community must face the notion of pressing on. While Gameday on the LSU campus may be a bit different from what many are accustomed and the traditions of tailgating might get somewhat curtailed, Tiger fans should be able to come together to celebrate the life in the state of Louisiana, within the walls of Tiger Stadium.


"We feel like it's time for us to get back out there and play football for the state of Louisiana," said LSU running back Justin Vincent. "In this state, everyone looks up to LSU, so we want to be the team that boosts people's spirits and gives them a chance to take their minds off things for a while."


Vincent and the Tigers press on – as will the rest of Louisiana.




 Matt Deville is the editor of Tiger Rag Magazine. Contact him by e-mail at

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