Before Katrina, I was still working part-time at Landis as an Assistant Project Manager following the birth of my first son in May of 2004. With the advent of Katrina, I returned to full-time work and immediately began focusing on the Xavier University campus renovation.
Dr. Norman C. Francis had already decided that Xavier could not wait to begin repairs and stressed that the school would need to reopen in January or face the real possibility that it would never open again. Under his leadership, Xavier applied for and received grant funding from FEMA to set up temporary housing on campus in the form of several trailer cities for employees of Xavier and for workers rebuilding the campus.
I will never forget those days – we literally lived in full Tyvek suits and respirators due to the contaminants (i.e., E. Coli and fecal material) that covered all surfaces once the floodwaters receded, and the pervasive mold that quickly took hold of the interiors of every building on campus after being shut up for weeks on end during what was probably one of the hottest Septembers on record.
Our job was to walk every single building, cataloging the finishes, damages and furniture to be able to have an accurate record whenever the insurance adjusters finally showed up. Once the cataloging was completed, the real work of demolition and rebuilding began. Our teams had to locate and bring in generators the size of tour busses to power the construction work as power had not been restored to the city yet. We were forced to bring in huge dehumidifying machines to help condition buildings like the Library in order to salvage the books and periodicals contained within.
Considering that virtually the entire campus was underwater in September 2005, I remember thinking how impossible the task in front of us seemed. But as the Landis team has proven time and time again, along with an outstanding group of subcontractors, we got it done -- paving the way for several more FEMA-funded education projects that were instrumental in rebuilding the city the following year.
For a long time, food and supplies were incredibly scarce, and during those first few weeks, all we could get were MRE’s from the National Guard. I remember we would all head to the Landis office every day for lunch, where we took turns supplying meals for each other since there were no grocery stores or restaurants open. Looking back on those times, as dark and devastating as they were, I’m filled with love and gratitude to have had such an incredible family at Landis. Each and every one of our employees, regardless of how much they or their own families may have been struggling, was always willing to step up and do whatever necessary to help out. This sense of community and unconditional support is still very much a part of the company culture today and has played a large role in our continued success and longevity.
Both Landis, and the entire city of New Orleans, demonstrated unprecedented strength, resolve and resiliency in the months and years that followed Hurricane Katrina. Regardless of what challenges the world throws at us, whether it be a natural disaster, a worldwide pandemic, or racial injustice, we will continue to persevere.