I caught up with a HackCollege reader just as she was fleeing New Orleans last week from Hurricane Gustav after she asked a question about reading assignments out of Google Book Search. Little did she know, she was about to get interviewed. The following is an edited email interview with fellow student Chelsea Mansulich.

HC: What school do you attend?

CM: I attend Loyola University New Orleans. I am from a suburb of Atlanta and I had no connections to New Orleans prior to attending college there.

HC: What year are you and what do you study?

CM: I am a junior. I am an Economics major with minors in Arabic and French. Other specialties include nerdiness and gleaning obscure facts about New Orleans.

HC: When did you receive the order to evacuate for Hurricane Gustav?

CM: Loyola students began talking about the Hurricane as of last Wednesday, August 27th; the majority of my professors conducted lectures in a general haze. They asked us about our Gustav plans and made sure that we all had somewhere to go.

The hurricane was the only thing on anyone’s mind. On Wednesday, if you were to stand at the back of a classroom and look at what students were doing on their laptops you would find them: hastily emailing their parents and friends, finalizing their hurricane evacuation plans on our online records service, updating their facebook status regarding what city they would go to and if they had car space for people to join them, google mapping evacuation routes, looking at contraflow maps, and obsessively looking at local newspapers…

Loyola students were told via email, a call to our cell phones, and by a banner on loyno.edu that they must be evacuated by Saturday (8/30) at 9 am. Also, the school began distributing Evacuation pamphlets that were printed by the state of Louisiana. We were told that the University would cease operations as of noon on Saturday; thus, every building locked and made into a ghost town. I left Friday morning at 4 in the morning for Dallas in order to avoid heinous traffic…

HC: How does the preparation for Gustav differ from the preparation for Katrina? Did you school take any extra precautions?

CM: I must admit, I was not in New Orleans for Katrina. However, there are several ways that preparation differed. We all filed our evacuation plans with the university; similar to filing immunization records. [Louisiana] had a better plan in place: the state would evacuate in tiers so that the traffic flow would be more efficient. Everyone knew in advance that it was coming. We were updated every 6 hours or so on the university’s plans in regards to evacuation and classes by emails, banners across the University’s home page, and calls to our cellphones. After Katrina, Loyola invested an absorbent amount of money on access to a state-of-the-art hurricane prediction website…

On a student level, students that went through Katrina tagged people in facebook notes about the lessons that they learned about Katrina. We were told things like: don’t forget to clean out your refrigerator, cell phones networks cease to work during evacuations due to the mass amount of calls but you will probably be able to text message, bring your lease and a current power bill for proof of residency so that you will be allowed to re-enter the city as soon as authorities will let you do so, ducktape your windows if you live off campus, etc

HC: You said your professors were still conducting class through Blackboard and other online methods. How do you feel about this? Do you think class should continue during a hurricane?

CM: I have mixed feelings about my professors conducting online classes. Honestly, our university did it as a means to keep enrollment. After Katrina, many insurance companies claimed that people prematurely evacuated for it (clearly this is absurdity). Thus, the idea of Blackboard seems to be a pragmatic way to keep enrollment and that much needed sense of normalcy. However, most people that use Blackboard will agree that it is, at best, mediocre software. Blackboard just happens to have a strong hold on the market.

I more or less feel accosted every time I use Blackboard so I have dreaded logging into it each day.

HC: Are all professors required to continue class during a hurricane, or is it just optional?

CM: All professors, in theory, are required to continue classes. As students at Loyola we have an obligation to log in to Blackboard within 48 hours of an evacuation. In our syllabi, our professors write about the school’s Hurricane policy and theirs respectively… In order for the university to keep its accreditation we must attend class a certain number of days a year. In the face of a hurricane, the school resorts to Blackboard as a means of continuing class so that we do not have to tack on extra days at the end of the year. Or possibly worse: have our Mardi Gras break eliminated.

HC: You mentioned something about your friend having “MacGyvered” a webcam looking outside of his window. What was the inspiration for this?

CM: My friend’s inspiration was a mixture of things. Not to sound cliched, or like every bad CNN newsreel you saw about Gustav, a significant amount of inspiration was simply desperation. We knew that if another hurricane hit we would not be able to see the conditions of our homes for quite a while. Possibly months before we were allowed to re-enter. Although Gustav was only a category 2 at landfall, we will only be allowed to enter our city as of Thursday (as in today). We still do not know if the homes we return to will have power.

The hardest part about evacuation is the uncertainty. Everyone wonders if and when their lives will return to normalcy. We knew we would see our friends again, but when we would see them was the question. When I was in the process of evacuating, for the first 5 hours of the drive, I watched several national guard convoys head towards New Orleans, as well as fire brigades, police cars, and school buses (the city’s evacuation plan was for people to evacuate via school buses. The school bus would drive through their neighborhood blaring a siren and at that point it was their duty to get on the bus). While we all were preparing for an evacuation and saw officials prepare we were unsure of when it would be official.

The webcam, as cheesy as this might come across in print, provided everyone who knew about it a sense of certainty. We looked at it online to see if it was raining, if the power was out, and to have knowledge of what was occurring in the place that we were forced to leave.

HC: Anything else that you’d like to add?

CM: The New Orleans that I know is not the New Orleans that you know due to a travesty of irresponsible media coverage during and after Katrina as well as Gustav. When I am traveling outside of NoLa and people ask me where I attend college their response typically involves “How is the city post hurricane Katrina?”. Sometimes, people ask me if it is still flooded, and I imagine a large part of their ignorance is due to the media’s lack of coverage on New Orleans rebuilding post Katrina. I typically smile to this question and coyly answer “Yes, I actually take a boat in order to attend class.”

There is more to New Orleans than Mardi Gras, Bourbon Street, the French Quarter, and alcohol consumption. While all of the aforementioned are noble pursuits- the city has so much more to offer. However, tourists who only spend time in the touristy area of Bourbon Street would never be familiar with anything more.

Whether it is Katrina, Gustav, or even Ike the question of rebuilding ought to never be a question again. New Orleans ability to thrive and subsist effects your lifestyle.

Do you attend school in the Southeast? How did you evacuate for the storm? For those not in the Southeast, what has news co
verage of the storm been like on your own campus? Let us know in the comments!