It was two days before Hurricane Katrina was supposed to hit New Orleans when Tulane law student Mason Wann decided it was time to get out of town.
Wann had been through this before-last year Hurricane Ivan threatened the coast and he stayed with a friend's family near Baton Rouge. Wann admits that he was not particularly concerned about the approaching storm, but the newscasts were not encouraging. He decided to fill up his car's gas tank and call his sister. She had just graduated this past spring from Tulane University's law school and was still living in New Orleans.
"I went back, packed up two or three changes of clothes, my schoolbooks and my dog," said Wann, who joins four other students from law schools in the Gulf Coast region this semester at the Law School. "We decided to just take my car to save money on gas-that goes to show you that we still didn't think it was going to be that big of a deal. Otherwise, we would have taken more things with us."
Wann and his sister drove out of New Orleans. With city officials ordering a mandatory evacuation, Interstate 10 was a "parking lot," Wann said, and they were able to travel only a few miles per hour at the beginning of the trip. They finally reached Jackson, Miss. that evening, he said, where they were lucky enough to find a hotel room.
"We thought Jackson would be good because the trip back to New Orleans would be easy," Wann said. "The next day, we knew we couldn't get back to New Orleans."
Like thousands of college students across the Gulf Coast region, Wann will not be able to return there this semester. As everyone knows now, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in what has been described as the perfect storm.
"The amount of destruction in New Orleans is just surreal to me," Wann said. "It's hard to get my mind around. The places they showed on the news-those were places that I know. I lived two blocks from the convention center. It's just terrible."
Wann said he was fortunate. He did not have any friends who remained in the city. He is hopeful Tulane will be ready to reopen in January. Until then, he will continue his studies at William & Mary-a school he considered attending two years ago. He applied this time after the College appeared on a list of schools offering help that was compiled by the Association of American Law Schools. He is one of five law students (three from Tulane, two from Loyola) and seven undergraduate students accepted temporarily by the College.
"I chose William & Mary for a couple reasons," said Wann, who is in his second year of law school. "First, it's a great school ... . Second, they were the first to get back to me and it was critical that I got back into school."
As he waits for Tulane and New Orleans to recover from one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the United States, Wann is happy that he decided to spend the fall semester in Williamsburg. Faculty and staff at the law school have been supportive and welcoming, he said.
"They have really made the transition as easy as it could have been, given the circumstances," Wann said. "The biggest challenge so far has been catching up with my work. But that's trivial compared with the challenges that a lot of people are facing as a result of the storm. I really can't complain."