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Hurricane-force memories

Tammy Gilbert brought back a hilarious memory from Arabi Park Middle tonight on Facebook. One which I had totally forgotten until she jogged my memory, and it came right back.

In September 1988, Hurricane Gilbert ravaged Jamaica with winds of 125 miles per hour, two and a half feet of rain, and a 19-foot storm surge. There were a lot of deaths, 45, but it could have been a heck of a lot worse.

When the storm emerged into the Caribbean Sea off the west coast of Jamaica, the storm underwent a rapid intensification, growing into a Category 5 monster with winds of 185 miles per hour. Gilbert also made history when its minimum central pressure dropped to 888 millibars, or 26.23 inches of mercury, shattering the record of 892 millibars (26.34 inches) which was set during the Labor Day hurricane of 1935. By comparison, Camille’s lowest pressure in 1969 was 900 millibars (26.58 inches), but the winds were more intense, 190 miles per hour, when it slammed into the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

The Friday before Gilbert slammed into Jamaica, Hurricane Florence, a Category 1 storm with winds of 80 miles per hour, crossed the Mississippi River delta in lower Plaquemines Parish–not too far from where Camille crossed in 1969–but this time, the storm began to weaken as it neared the city of New Orleans. My house in Arabi lost power for an hour or so, but other than that, there were really no effects. There were a few leaves and twigs down from the tree in our backyard, but the sun came out that Saturday and I was watching college football as normal.

School was not called off for Florence, and I was in a panicky mode all day long at school. My classmates got a big kick out of it, and as I was leaving, I picked up my trumpet from the band room. I told Ms. Crow that I was worried about the storm, and she told me jokingly to go home and play Taps.

Gilbert was no joke. This storm was the 1988 version of Camille, and if a storm of that magnitude hit the United States, it would be beyond catastrophic. There was no doubt Gilbert

Wednesday, September 14, 1988, was all about Gilbert in the halls of Arabi Park Middle. I wasn’t interested in talking about the Saints, I wasn’t interested in the baseball pennant races, I wasn’t interested with LSU’s game that weekend at Tennessee. I was all worried about Gilbert, and I told anyone who would listen this storm was scary.

I found a way to get under the skin of our class valedictorian. I began calling Tammy “Hurricane” Gilbert, and every time, she told me to shut up. I would not let it go for quite some time; in fact, I think it wasn’t until January or February when it finally died down. Rosemarie, Tammy’s neighbor and best friend, was unhappy with me for one of the few times.

I thought with Gilbert coming into the Gulf of Mexico the St. Bernard Parish School Board would call off classes for Thursday and Friday, and we would get a four-day weekend.

Didn’t get a four-day weekend. Didn’t get a three-day weekend. Gilbert passed well south of Louisiana and Texas and came ashore in Mexico, where it killed 200.

I recall three hurricane vacations during my school years.

The first was in fourth grade at St. Robert Bellarmine, when we had the Friday before Labor Day due to the threat of Hurricane Elena, which at first was making a beeline towards New Orleans. That storm turned sharply east, and then back to the west before coming ashore in Pascagoula, Mississippi, east of where Camille and Katrina roared ashore.

The second was in August 1992. On the first day of my junior year at Brother Martin, Hurricane Andrew came ashore south of Miami with Category 5 winds of 165 miles per hour. The storm entered the Gulf of Mexico shortly after noon that day, and it appeared New Orleans was the bullseye. We had the next two days off, and it appeared we may not have a school to come back to, but that was the least of my worries. I was REALLY scared I was going to die.

Luckily, Andrew veered west and made landfall in Louisiana near Morgan City, at the mouth of the Atchafalya River.

In September 1998, i had a day off from LSU due to Hurricane Georges. The storm passed well east of Baton Rouge, but it was very windy that Monday at LSU football practice. I had to go out to practice to police the media as part of my duties with LSU’s sports information office.

In landlocked Kansas, there are snow days, but I’ve never seen school called off, at least in Russell, due to the threat of tornadoes. Now if the National Severe Storms Center issued a high risk severe outlook, I”m sure superintendents would seriously consider keeping students home in order to keep them off of buses and off the streets traveling to and from school.

Toni award

My time in Kansas City is running short, as is my free time for the summer. I’ll be covering volleyball in just under 52 hours, and by this time next week, the season will be in full swing.

Save for the problem with the two guys at Buffalo Wild Wings last night and my indecision Saturday, this has been a very good trip. I really had a blast getting doused with ice water by my friends at B-Dubs, and I’ve had a ton of fun going down memory lane with some of my chums from Arabi Park Middle School.

Two more reconnections this morning, bringing the total to seven.

One was with Toni LaRocca, one of only a few from Arabi Park I saw in person since exiting the school for the final time on June 2, 1989. I ran into Toni at Hooters in Metairie a few times during my internship with the New Orleans Zephyrs in 2000. She may have been the shortest girl in our class, but she had one of the biggest hearts, not to mention a smile which could melt away the tightest frown. I absolutely loved her in that Hooters uniform. And i love her still.

The other new Facebook friend is Tammy Gilbert, whom I’m proud to say is far, far smarter than I. She was shy, but very studious and very friendly when you got to know her. She also played the flute in the band, and she joined with Toni and Nicole Meyer–the tallest of our class–three great ones. Ms. Crow never had to worry about the flutes. Never.

Tammy lived next door to Rosemarie’s grandparents, so it was natural they were best friends. Two great ladies.

Now I’m starting to remember another band member who wasn’t in the honors classes, Vicki Tabora. Vicki lived across the street from Carolyn Park on the other side of St. Robert Bellarmine church, not too far from the Datuerive residence. Vicki was a gifted drummer, and she accepted the burden of playing one of the big bass drums. Try carrying that for 8-10 miles in a parade. Most boys would cry, but Vicki handled it like a champ.

Strange but true story. I was so clumsy in the sixth grade that I couldn’t play the clarinet and march, so Ms. Crow had me carry the Louisiana state flag at the front of the parade formation. However, I was good enough playing when sitting down to make the Louisiana Music Educators Association elementary honor band for the second consecutive year. Nicole, Rosemarie and Jason Malasovich also made it in 1988. Maybe it was a good thing I wasn’t playing the clarinet in parades in 1988, because the Arabi Park band won the band competition in the Shangri-La parade, and we got to march at the very beginning of that parade in 1989.

Now that I’ve friended Stacie, Rosemarie, Shandy, Shawn, Lara, Toni and Tammy, I’m starting to see more and more and more from St. Bernard pop up when I’m searching for friends. I have to admit it’s making me smile.

As nice as it is to sit around the computer, it’s no good here in the hotel. Time to get ready and get over to Buffalo Wild Wings. Brittany Davidson is working tonight. She reminds me a lot of Toni not in terms of being short, but in being a warm and caring person. Her finacee is one lucky guy.