When Adrienne Lanier was interviewed in mid-August for the top story on this page, all was calm at home in southwest Louisiana, where she had just spent her summer break from Cornell University.
Then Hurricane Katrina made landfall on Aug. 29. Although Lanier’s own community of Lake Charles was spared, several friends and family in other parts of the state were forced to scatter.
Not even a month later, on Sept. 24, Hurricane Rita blew in from the Gulf of Mexico — with Lake Charles directly in the path of a storm as potentially damaging as Katrina, which caused more than 1,000 deaths. Prior to Rita’s landfall, Lanier’s family evacuated to her uncle’s house in northern Louisiana. Lanier said that in a phone call with her mother, she was asked which of her personal items should be removed in case the house was destroyed.
Add up all the chaos, and it’s not surprising that Lanier rates these past few weeks as “definitely some of the most surreal of my life.”
Fortunately, although Lake Charles experienced considerable damage, Rita’s wrath was not as great as predicted. Lanier’s father returned to find 30 inches of water in the family home, but it was basically intact.
“It should be fine. There’s a little remodeling to do,” Lanier said on Sept. 28, adding that her parents, younger brother and cat would be moving back in shortly. “It definitely wasn’t as bad as it could have been, and I’m very thankful for that.”
As of late, concentrating on studies has been an extra challenge for Lanier, an animal science major at Cornell. Her anxiety during the hurricanes was heightened by not always being able to reach family and friends due to downed phone networks in Louisiana.
“It’s weird, being so far away. I feel like I should be home with my family, but it’s almost like a good thing — out of sight, out of mind,” she remarked. “So it’s kind of mixed emotions.”
Lanier had planned to fly to New Orleans to be a bridesmaid in her cousin’s wedding on Oct. 1, but with much of the city ruined by Katrina, the event was forced to be postponed. When she does go back to her home state, she will brace for the sight of devastation even more graphic than what she’s seen on television.
“My friend Jeff, he was in middle of Katrina and he was like, ‘you have no idea’ — not in a mean way, but it doesn’t really sink in unless you’re there,” she said.
Lanier said that her friends on campus, particularly those in the Cornell Catholic Community, have boosted her spirits at Sunday and weekday Masses.
“There were definitely people from the community asking me about things and letting me know they were praying for me. That was so comforting,” she said.
She noted that the campus’s focus was more intense after Katrina than Rita, due to the comparatively high level of devastation. For instance, there was a huge response to a special second collection at one Sunday Mass for Katrina victims.
“As the basket was passed around, I saw people putting in everything from $20 dollar bills, to dollar bills, to even just the change they had in their pockets. It was so uplifting to see such a response from the congregation,” she said. “But more than the money that was collected, what I noticed even more were the prayers that were being lifted up for the victims of the hurricane and their families. Mass intentions were always included for the people affected by Katrina, and many people, when I asked them to pray for those in New Orleans and Mississippi, responded with a definite ‘I will.'”
Although she grew up in a hurricane zone, Lanier cannot recall a series of storms quite like these. In light of Katrina and Rita, you won’t catch her complaining about the impending winter in upstate New York.
“I don’t mind the snow at all. I think I would prefer cold weather to the hurricanes,” she said, laughing.