Five years after Hurricane Katrina devastated parts of Louisiana, Lasallian schools there began a new school year strong while remembering the past.
De La Salle High School in New Orleans was closed for more than six weeks following the hurricane. The worldwide Lasallian community inspired the school during the recovery period. Still, De La Salle is not back to normal. Even after repairs, renovations and rebuilding, the school faces years of challenge to create academic, athletic and artistic facilities for future students. Prior to the hurricane, 750 students were enrolled. Today, there are 460.
Archbishop Rummel High School in Metairie also has a smaller student body than pre-Katrina days. The damage to the school by the hurricane was not as severe as many other schools, allowing it to open as Archbishop Rummel Transition High School. More than 1700 displaced students and 70 displaced teachers were welcomed for the first semester after the storm.
Christian Brothers School (CBS) in New Orleans was among those that held classes at “Rummel T.” The school sits on a small hill fewer than five miles from the levee breach; flood waters surrounded the building and spilled into sub-surface rooms.
Principal Joey Scaffidi said the storm changed CBS both physically and emotionally. It prompted upgrades to the campus, including an expansion, and taught them not take blessings for granted. Teachers are more appreciative of their jobs, families of their communities, and students of their schools. “Emotionally, we have been changed forever and for the better,” said Scaffidi. “Our emergency preparations have improved greatly. Our community is more sensitive to the needs of others than ever before. Once you experience ‘being without,’ you know what it is like to be in need-and the more responsive you become to the needs of others.”
The storm was an unforgettable experience for Brothers, staff and their families who stayed at CBS, where Brothers live on the second floor. Bro. Laurence Konersmann remembers Katrina being nerve-wracking, but not as worrisome as when the water started to rise around the building. “We had no idea where the water was coming from,” he recalled. “I put out a little stick and I measured how far it was coming up and measured the progress.”
While they were stuck in the building, authorities checked on them periodically and they were eventually rescued. A few people escaped by being hoisted into a hovering helicopter. The next day, the rest were taken to safety on an air mattress and picked up by a helicopter.
Fourteen Brothers in Covington, LA also rode out the hurricane in their two communities near St. Paul’s School. Following the storm, seven retired Brothers evacuated to the community in Lafayette. That community welcomed about 10 Brothers from Covington and New Orleans.
St. Paul’s School was closed for three weeks to clean up damaged fences, sidewalks, windows and more. The hurricane knocked down power lines and trees. Trees tore through the theater and activated the sprinkler system, which caused flooding. One large pavilion remains damaged.
Principal Bro. Ray Bulliard said all but 10 students returned to St. Paul’s post-Katrina and the school enrolled 80 evacuees. He credits parents for their help in re-opening the school-even taking displaced students into their homes. The greater Lasallian community showed its support as well, which Bro. Ray called humbling and unifying.
Like so many, Hurricane Katrina changed Bro. Ray. “So much of our lives now are described as ‘pre or post K,'” he said. “We all wondered if this was the end of our region. I wondered if it was the end of our school – I was convinced we would be closed for months. But God is good – and obviously wanted our area and Lasallian education to survive!”