Hurricanes and tropical storms are hardly new to this neck of the swamp.
They’ve made periodic visits ever since the area founded by Jean-Baptist LeMoyne Sieur de Bienville and named Nouvelle Orléans was little more than a plot of wetland occupied by snakes, alligators and mosquitos.
Four years after the city’s formal birth in 1718, the first recorded hurricane roared through the young settlement.
According to meteorological records, the raging storm destroyed the hospital and 36 huts erected by the first settlers from France. Ships and fishing boats were sent to the bottom of the waterways.
There was no warning back then; no sophisticated instruments to track weather systems or fly-throughs to measure the strength of storms at that time.
Even today, as well-prepared in advance of a potential threat as we are, there is little that can be done other than evacuate when the Crescent City area is Target Zero.
And as the latest tempest, Harvey, churns its way east from Texas, I wonder, why do hurricanes have to hit Louisiana during the start of football season?
That may be a narrow-minded line of reasoning, but, from the first football spoiler in 1915, to Betsy in 1965 and Camille in 1968, hurricanes have always hit in mid-to-late August or early September. It’s a historic fact.
Those three major storms delayed the start of the season by a few weeks, unlike Katrina in 2005, which limited the prep football season to a handful of games for schools that could muster enough players six to eight weeks later.
Hell and high water
We lost Tad Gormley and Pan American stadiums for the season. Gormley had new turf and drainage for the first time since it opened in 1937. It was destroyed under the water that flooded City Park.
Gormley has a brand new turf today. All the stadium lights work, and I’d like to see things stay that way.
Not all football seasons were affected by hurricanes. Before 1967, when the Saints came into existence, the high school season had a later start.
Back in the 1920s, there weren’t as many high school teams. Football season began in early October in some years. By then, the storms had come and gone.
The first hurricane to hamper the prep season came in 1915.
The Jesuit administration had little warning. Its principal penned a hand-written entry into his daily log on Sept. 29, which read: “Hurricane coming. Boys dismissed at 10:20 a.m. At 5 p.m., the hurricane arrived.”
He added to his notes, “Storm did great damage to the city, demolishing churches and large buildings. We were lucky – only a few broken windows.”
The storm was nonetheless brutal. With no warning systems in place, the winds and water claimed 350 lives and caused $5 million in damage to property in the city.
“Betsy” (1965) produced a 10-foot storm surge, causing New Orleans its worst flooding in decades when she arrived on Sept. 9.
Records show that water depths reached nine feet in the eastern portion of the city and in Chalmette.
But the games played on.
Chalmette was able to play seven district games, losing just two (one to champion West Jefferson).
At that time the Catholic League included three schools from down under – Thibodaux, Terrebonne and South Terrebonne. Terrebonne managed to play all 10 games and shared the championship with Jesuit.
The city had not finished its recovery from 1965 when “Camille” roared through the Mississippi Gulf Coast and left its mark on southeast Louisiana in 1969.
In Slidell, winds gusted to 125 mph, resulting in a storm surge of 16 feet that wiped out many camps on Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Catherine as water overwashed Highway 90 to a depth of 10 feet.
Fortunately, it struck on Aug. 17-18 and only the first week of the prep season was lost.
Camille may still be considered the most intense hurricane known to ever make landfall in the U.S., but Katrina was the most disastrous weather event this city has ever experienced.
I watched it from a room on the fourth floor of the Hilton Riverside. I watched the Mississippi River flow from south to north past my window.
All of us at the Clarion Herald were displaced for months, but we soldiered on until things returned to normal.
Orleans Parish lost most of its major public schools. The local Catholic and private schools slowly recovered.
Having experienced the ravages of nature first hand, my heart goes out to the people of east Texas, but please, Harvey, stay away.
Ron Brocato can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.