October 1, 2021
Photographs By: Zachary Olivos
The following is a letter written by Natalie Weiss, a student at Tulane University School of Medicine, addressed to Hurricane Ida, the storm that wreaked havoc on southeastern Louisiana on August 29, 2021.
It was already ironic enough that you planned your visit to New Orleans on the 16th anniversary of Katrina’s stroll through the neighborhood. You must have been upset that we did not welcome you with open arms. In fact, we spent countless hours and billions of dollars reinforcing the walls that would keep you away. Nothing was enough.
Non sibi, sed suis.
“Not for oneself, but for one’s own.”
Tulane’s motto sets the expectation that we will sacrifice ourselves for the needs of our community. We have stepped up without a second thought over these last few years, when our community has had greater needs than ever before. A global pandemic has threatened our most vulnerable populations; unprecedented heat has created dangerous conditions for those working outdoors or commuting; and now, this. You just had to kick us while we were down. You came to the city despite our best efforts and, in your fit of rage, destroyed historical landmarks, broke glass panels, and took power from the entire city.
I personally met you face-to-face when you visited. I listened to the roar of 100-mile-per-hour winds against my living room windows, and ran to lock myself in my bedroom after I noticed a 4-foot-long crack in one of the panes. You almost broke in. The power went out around dinnertime, and I was unsure of when I would be able to charge my phone again to make emergency phone calls. Ambulance services were suspended, and I feared that I would have some unexpected accident with no hope of rescue. You really scared me. When you finally left, and a little sunlight had come back to the city, I had no power or water. You left me no choice but to leave for a while. I know that you threatened many of my friends, my family members, and my community members in a similar way.
If anything, you have bonded us together in an effort to stave off threats to our city: our people. Perhaps this is not what you intended. Tulane students from around the country, some of whom began school only a week ago, have quickly become “New Orleanian” since your visit. While we have not yet entirely recovered our power, we are working hard to keep everyone safe and sane until the city is back up and running. Some of us are tarping homes, delivering meals, and cleaning debris as we speak. Others have been forced to evacuate to safely clear the city for workers. All are connected through the desire to help the place that we cherish.
Many ask how it is possible or reasonable that New Orleans exists.
“It’s below sea level - why does anyone live there?”
The only response that I can give is that the people make the city, and these people truly live not only for themselves but for one another. Non sibi, sed suis. I would not give up my family for a new one, even if it meant staying with them below sea level. No one would. When you realize that we have become a family in New Orleans, bound by our shared experiences, you will understand better what keeps us together. You will understand what keeps us fighting for our city.
In every hope that you will never return, as “Jonathan,” or “Parker,” or “Francine,” I close this message. If you do happen upon our city again, we will fight again. We have fought - and won - before. We will grow together, in the face of the adversity that you have brought us, and show you what a stronger New Orleans looks like.
If you would like to contribute to the recovery of New Orleans and the rest of Southeastern Louisiana following Hurricane Ida, please consider donating by following the link below: