The Evacuation: Saturday, August 27, and Sunday, August 28

The surface of your skin contains a microbial ecosystem. If you're always washing, that ecology will be disrupted.

Renee Brandt Peck '75 grew up in a small town about fifty miles north of Lake Charles, Louisiana. An interest in English brought her to Kenyon, where she met her future husband of thirty years, Stewart Peck '74. Shortly after graduation, Stewart enrolled at the Tulane University law school in New Orleans, a city Renee had always loved.

After nearly three decades in the Big Easy, they knew plenty about hurricane evacuation. They kept a hurricane kit with a flashlight, battery-operated radio, water, nonperishable food supplies, batteries, change of clothes, boots. Though the Pecks had had occasion to toss their hurricane kit into the back of their car and head out of town, the storms usually hit east or west of New Orleans, and the family returned after a day or two.

So, when the mayor issued an evacuation order on Saturday morning, August 27, Renee and Stewart heeded the warning, but only half-heartedly. Renee booked a room at the Quality Suites in Baton Rouge, talked to a coworker at the Times-Picayune, where she has been an editor and reporter since 1977, and made plans to work from the hotel. The couple spent the day boarding up their home in Lakeview, a New Orleans community near the 17th Street Canal, and the next morning, they piled into their car with their youngest daughter, Katherine, their Sheltie, PJ, and their hurricane kit and headed north. It seemed little more than an exercise. We'll be back by Tuesday, Wednesday at the latest, Renee thought.

Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of boxes arrived at Tulane University in New Orleans the fourth week of August, awaiting retrieval by incoming first-year students. Early on Saturday, August 27, Carly Toole claimed her boxes, filled with linens, clothes, and mementos from home. Carly and her family--including her father, Theodore Toole '74--carted the boxes to her third-floor dorm room. After a morning of unpacking, the Toole family filed into an auditorium for the official start of freshman orientation.

The president walked onstage with an expression more concerned than welcoming. Hurricane Katrina, he told the crowd, appeared to have New Orleans in its sights. The university would close at 6:00 p.m. that day. Buses would take students to safety at Jackson State University in Mississippi. Carly's family was booked on a return flight to their home near Philadelphia Sunday, but by the time the president made his announcement, there were no seats on any flight out of New Orleans for Carly. She packed a small bag, grabbed a pillow and a blanket, and joined other classmates waiting for a spot on a bus.

Around midnight, the caravan pulled up to a gymnasium at Jackson State and about three hundred exhausted Tulane freshmen lumbered off the bus and into the building for the night. There were no cots or sleeping bags, but it would only be for a few days, the students were told. They'd be back at Tulane by Tuesday, Wednesday at the latest.

After completing a bachelor's degree in political science at Kenyon, James Irwin '69 enrolled in law school at Case Western Reserve University. Following graduation in 1973, he worked for a federal judge in Alexandria, Louisiana, before taking a job with a firm in New Orleans. He's been there ever since. Five years ago, he and a group of colleagues started their own law firm, Irwin Fritchie Urquhart & Moore LLC.

James and his wife, Stephanie, live in Mandeville on New Orleans's north shore. They'd built their house eight feet above sea level and designed it to withstand a flood, so the couple decided to ride out Katrina with their two boys, Burke, age eight, and Cullen, four. Conditions began to deteriorate rapidly Sunday evening, but it wasn't until the air pressure plummeted that James realized just how bad the storm would get.

"If you follow hurricanes, and most of us do down here, you know to watch the central pressure," James says. "When we saw it drop to a shocking number--907--things really started to go south. I had never seen anything that low before."

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