Bound to the Baton Rouge by Duty

Whenever my dad had to leave for Baton Rouge on business, I got really frustrated, because he would always come back exhausted and worn-down. My father is (and was, then) one of the lead computer analysts for the University of New Orleans, so the job of trekking out to the server center on LSU's campus often fell upon him. Sometimes he would go with a team, sometimes by himself, but always he came back looking taxed.

It had been like that for a long time, ever since he got hired back by UNO. Even after UNO's split from the LSU system, the servers remained on the LSU campus, because it would be a huge expense to move them, and they were safe there. I didn't quite understand what the repercussions would be of the servers remaining in Baton Rouge, but they became quite evident when we had to stay there during Hurricane Gustav.

My dad was the only one told that he had to keep watch over the servers. My mom was really mad about that. A Cat 4 and we're stuck right where it could land on our heads. And it did. It stayed there for days. It landed all around us, surrounding us with icy, windy rain, patio chairs flying around the courtyard, and palms slamming against our balcony windows late at night. The motel we had gone to didn't have the foresight to tie down the pool chairs and equipment before the winds hit.

Going out from the motel to LSU to check on the servers was terrifying. It's one of the reasons I didn't go there for college. I couldn't see the campus the same after seeing it in the grips of a hurricane. My dad had asked if I wanted to get out of the motel, and I lept at the chance. We had lost power 7 days previous (which had seemed like a nightmare, until 32nd day without power, which had seemed like hell) and the motel frightened me for some reason. I just needed to get out and stretch my legs.

We left during a break in the storm, but once we reached LSU's campus, it had begun raining again. The only place we could safely park without getting water in our car was far from the server center, and I had to walk through ankle-deep water to even make it to the sidewalk. We walked across campus, looking at the wreck that was LSU. It's normally beautiful trees were broken and it's paved roads covered in water-slick leaves. It was hazardous, but navigable. Once we reached the server center, however, things starting going bad. The doors were locked and no one was around to hear us calling to be let in, his phone dead long before this point. My dad had thought to bring his charger with him, so we tried to find an outlet on the outside of one of the buildings.

That's when the wind started picking up. The rain had been okay. Wind and rain combined, however, was genuinely scary to be in the middle of. I hadn't brought the thickest of jackets, and being cold and nervous, my freezing wet socks doing a number on my body heat retention, I was close to a panic attack. We had to move from one building to the next, trying to find a place where the outlets weren't covered with water, all the while watching branches drop from trees and the rain stinging our faces. All I remember was trying not to look at what was happening all around me.

We were finally able to find an outlet to call the people inside the server center, and we were able to make it back to that building without much incident but for a slip or two on some leaves. I recall sitting on the floor near the servers, trying to soak up their heat output, trying to hold back tears. I was 15, not some sniveling child. But being outside during the storm had wrecked me, more than I cared to admit.

I wish I had pictures to go with this story, as most of the scene that had unfolded around me still remains hard for me to put into words. During Katrina, I was in west Texas, far from where the storm hit. We didn't even get a drizzle out there. I had heard how truly terror-inducing the storm was when it was happening around you, but I never experienced it for myself, was ignorant of how awesome (and not in the "Cool story, bro" way) a hurricane really can be.

Gustav learned me that lesson real quick.

Citation

Jessica D'Aquin, “Bound to the Baton Rouge by Duty,” Hurricane Digital Memory Bank, accessed April 21, 2019, http://hurricanearchive.org/items/show/45956.