The worst was feared. Mass evacuations carried people far away from towns in Louisiana, igniting the fears that had just begun to bank after the horrible aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) had been predicting that Hurricane Gustav would make landfall as a Category 3 hurricane or above. This, thankfully, did not come true.
While Gustav reached the Louisiana shore as a Category 2 hurricane, ten Louisiana State University (LSU) students were not packing their lives away and driving north, to safety.
They were the ten members of the LSU Daily Reveille Emergency Team?established before the semester even started?with editors from each department as well as staff members to cover the website and video aspects.
As much of Baton Rouge lost power, the Emergency Team blew up air mattresses in the Reveille newsroom to cover all they possibly could of the damage.
Nicholas Persac, a junior and news editor at the Reveille, said in some ways the damage was worse than Katrina, but that this time people knew what was coming.
“Katrina was a different kind of monster, very chaotic and unprepared,” said Persac. “This time the damage might be worse, with all the trees and wind damage?the difference is everyone was much more prepared.”
The campus alone lost 120 trees, and a tornado caused significant roof damage to a recreation center, among others damages.
Even in their last classes before the storm hit, professors were helping students to prepare and raise their awareness. In Persac’s weather class the students spent the last 25 minutes talking about Gustav and about tracking hurricanes.
The few days before and after Gustav hit were busy and hectic for the Emergency Team. Saturday and Sunday the headlines ran with things like “RAs meet with students choosing to weather Hurricane Gustav,” “Contraflow to start 4 a.m. Sunday” and “More than one million residents fleeing Gustav.”
“Saturday and Sunday we were covering everything that was happening before the storm,” said Persac. “Monday we were sitting in the newsroom watching as the storm hit, posting what we could before we lost power.”
At some point, the newsroom gained power for a short half hour, which they spent posting updates and writing blogs, making sure the community received all the information they could.
“One of our students said last night, ‘The student in student journalist falls off when there is a hurricane. Right now, we’re just journalists’, ” said Pat Parish, associate director of the Office of Campus Media in an email.
The campus’ basketball center was turned into a medical special needs facility. Early Sunday, the Emergency Team watched as the Governor’s convoy pulled up to the building. They quickly raced through the wind and rain to capture video of the Governor speaking with some patients.
One of the Reveille’s chief sports writers appeared on ESPN, talking of a football game that was going to be postponed.
The Reveille’s website holds video after video documenting everything from building damage, clean up crews, the torn down trees, the damage to the stadium and greek houses, and students reactions. The team has also created an interactive map of all the damage done to the campus.
“Being out of school gives them time — time to try out new technologies and
ideas. They are chatting, live streaming, blogging, and updating like mad.
They are focusing on angles important to their audience in ways they
sometimes forget to look for during ordinary times,” said Parish.
“We were just trying to cover every aspect of campus as possible, where are students eating, what are they doing, how are they getting along without power,” said Persac.
On Tuesday, The Daily Reveille had 20,000 hits on their website, a staggering number considering that most of the campus and town lost power.
“It must have been alumni and students who had evacuated and had power?people wanted to know what was happening on campus,” said Persac.
Unfortunately, it’s not over. On September 5, the NHC had issued advisories on Tropical Storm Hanna, Hurricane Ike, and Tropical Storm Josephine The National Hurricane Center reported at 11 p.m. Saturday that Tropical Storm Hanna hit the Carolinas and Virginia with up to 4-6 inches of rain and 55-mph winds; however, no heavy damage was sustained.