NEW ORLEANS (BP)–New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary suffered only minimal damage as Hurricane Gustav pushed through about 70 miles southwest of the city Sept. 1.
Late Monday night when Hurricane Gustav finally moved away from New Orleans, members of the New Orleans seminary family received a text message with the good news. “Campus secure. Damage minimal. Reopening Monday. Return possible Thursday. Praise the Lord!” the message read.
After the storm passed, NOBTS President Chuck Kelley received an encouraging report from the facilities and security team that stayed on campus.
“Our campus report was very good,” NOBTS President Chuck Kelley said. “We have minor roof damage on a few buildings and some trees are down. Power is already restored on the front block of campus.”
Kelley said that the earliest possible return campus would be Thursday or Friday.
“It is important to be sure New Orleans is ready before we begin our return,” Kelley said. “Also, we must avoid complicating the work of first responders who are addressing needs across Mississippi and Louisiana. Our ‘all clear’ will follow that of the state and the city.”
The seminary will have an online “frequently asked questions” section on the NOBTS website to provide additional information to the seminary family. Information also will be available through the seminary’s main telephone number, 1-800-662-8701.
Classes will resume and offices will reopen Monday, Sept. 8. Main campus students will continue their coursework via Blackboard (an online learning tool) as planned.
“What we saw with Hurricane Katrina was God’s mercy and grace in the midst of a disaster. With Hurricane Gustav we saw God’s mercy and grace in sparing us from disaster,” Kelley said. “Although God’s disaster mercy became more dear and precious to us than words can ever express, this side of God’s mercy is much easier to accept and to bear. We really have been blessed of God.”
In a live press conference carried by WWL radio, New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin said he and city council members had encountered downed trees and power lines throughout the city. He also noted a number of buildings with structural damage.
Nagin said it was too early to say when his administration would allow residents to return to the city. For instance, the water and sewer systems currently are running on back-up power. Crews from the city and the power company began assessing the damage Tuesday and making necessary repairs in preparation for the return of the general population.
According to the National Hurricane Center, Hurricane Gustav made landfall as a Category 2 hurricane around 10 a.m. Monday near Cocodrie, La., about 70 miles southwest of New Orleans. The storm, packing 110 mph winds, continued its northwestern track into central Louisiana at about 15 miles per hour.
Initial reports indicated that both wind damage and storm surge were less than originally feared. Over the weekend, weather forecasters predicted that Gustav would make landfall as a Category 4 hurricane and bring a storm surge 13 to 18 feet above normal. Instead, Gustav weakened Sunday to a Category 3 storm with maximum sustained winds at about 115 mph and dropped to a Category 2 storm just before landfall.
In New Orleans, all attention turned to the west side of the Industrial Canal, which extends from Lake Pontchartrain south to the Mississippi River. New Orleans Seminary is located near the north end of the Industrial Canal’s west side. In Hurricane Katrina, the east wall of the Industrial Canal gave way, flooding the city’s Lower Ninth Ward.
Three years later, storm surge from Gustav threatened the western levee wall. Despite some overtopping, the levee wall, reinforced since Katrina, held its ground. Further improvements to this levee have been scheduled and funded but the work had not been completed before the storm. By late Monday evening, the water in the canal had receded enough to stop the overtopping.
Kelley noted “some good news coming out of this storm is that the new levee designs and improvements were tested with positive results. The protection of the city is definitely improving.”
Many of the estimated 2 million southeastern Louisiana evacuees spent Sunday in bumper-to-bumper traffic hunting for a place to stay. As shelters throughout Mississippi quickly began filling, the Red Cross opened additional shelters. Some evacuees spent their first night away from New Orleans in their cars -– pulling into parking lots to sleep.
Due to the early NOBTS evacuation initiated by Kelley on Friday, members of the seminary family did not face the same traffic volume. The NOBTS evacuation concluded by noon Saturday.
Kelley thanked the many Southern Baptists who took in members of the seminary family. He said he had received numerous offers of assistance.
“We want to thank Southern Baptists for their prayers and warm hospitality,” Kelley said. “We’ve are very, very grateful.”
Kelley commended the work of federal, state and local government officials during the crisis.
“One of the key differences between Gustav and Katrina was the ability of the national, state and local governments to work together,” Kelley said. “Everything was handled in professional manner.”
Kelley also acknowledged the work of the Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps has been working to redesign and upgrade New Orleans area levees which failed during Katrina.”
“We learned that the Corps of Engineers’ new plan is the right design for our levees,” Kelley said. “The levees were tested by this storm and stood strong.”
Gary Myers is director of public relations and Michael McCormick is a staff writer at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.