Delgado A-Z: Katrina

 By: Tyler Scheuerman
Katrina…it’s not exactly the most well-liked word in Delgado history, but it did help shape the College (and the area) into what it is today.

The Fall 2005 semester began as one of the best in Delgado history. Enrollment had reached an all-time high of 17, 398 students across the College’s multi-location system. Classes opened as usual and the excitement of a new academic year was in the air.

All of that changed on Saturday, August 27 when a hurricane named Katrina forced a mandatory evacuation of the city of New Orleans and southeast Louisiana. The category four storm passed through the city on Monday, August 29 and apart from some wind damage, the Delgado locations escaped relatively unscathed. What happened next changed New Orleans and Delgado forever…a breach in several levees surrounding the city inundated the metro area with flood waters, swamping everything in its path.

Across Delgado’s multi-location system, damage was widespread. The Northshore location suffered about eight feet of water. The West Bank Campus suffered roof damage. Charity School of Nursing sustained basement flooding, which damaged the building’s electrical systems. The Maritime Training Facility and Covington locations escaped relatively unscathed. The City Park Campus, the College’s largest and original campus, was not so lucky. The campus, which served about 11,000 of the College’s population, suffered either wind or flood damage to 60% of its buildings. Isaac Delgado Hall, the oldest (and most populated) building on campus had minor first floor flooding. The O’Keefe Administration Building on City Park Avenue, which housed the entire administrative and operational base of the College, was also flooded.

Flooding along Navarre Avenue
 Isaac Delgado Hall on City Park Avenue, situated on higher ground than the surrounding area, resembled an island surrounded by floodwaters. The site quickly became a gathering spot for members of the community seeking safety and refuge. Campus police assisted the guests by providing food provisions and clothing borrowed from the culinary arts and theatre departments. After the successful evacuation of the campus in the days following the storm, the National Guard moved into Building 1 to establish a base of operation to patrol the surrounding area.

Building 1 was build on higher ground and did not flood
By Sept. 5, Chancellor Alex Johnson had relocated the College’s administration team and essential operations to Baton Rouge Community College. This allowed the College to begin the rebuilding process. Dr. Johnson’s and the administration’s primary goals were to locate the student population and allow them to get their education back on track as soon as possible. As the City of New Orleans began its long recovery Delgado also started to spring to life. A temporary website went online. A call center was set up. The College e-mail system returned. A community outreach program, “Come Home to Delgado,” was launched to engage the students and encourage them to return to New Orleans and specifically, Delgado.

Navarre entrance by WYES
With most of its locations still unable to open, the College reached out to its fairly new Distance Learning Department to launch a “virtual” fall semester. This involved fast track curriculum development and training faculty to teach additional classes online.  Prior to Katrina Delgado had only offered a small number of online classes.  With physical locations unavailable, the College relied increasing on the internet to communicate with students, deliver education and help everyone regain a sense of normalcy.

Beginning in October, classes slowly reopened for special mini-sessions at the less-damaged locations at the West Bank Campus and Covington, while Charity School of Nursing students were temporarily placed in host institution programs across the country. Programs such as the GM Training Center and Maritime and Fire Training Center partnered with other schools and businesses to set up temporary bases of operation. The College Administration relocated to leased property on the West Bank.

Delgado declared its official return for January 2006. As spring emerged in New Orleans, the College reopened its doors at nearly all pre-storm locations (with the exception of the Northshore-Slidell and Sydney Collier sites). The faculty and students returned for a new semester as Delgado and the New Orleans area began the long road to recovery. Volunteers and student groups helped with many projects, from removing molded books from the library to cleaning and landscaping the City Park campus to baseball players rebuilding the baseball field. The College community’s strong bonds and family ties helped the school fight through some of the darkest days in Delgado history.

Flag rescued by the National Guard, currently on display in Building 1
Over the next five years, the College would continue to grow and meet the needs of its community, breaking enrollment figures nearly every semester.

Nearly seven years after the storm, Delgado continues to thrive. While the majority of the College’s infrastructure has been restored, several Katrina scars still remain around its locations. Just as it has done throughout its 90 years of operation, Delgado faced adversity and change and passed the test with flying colors.

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