Alessandro Roco

August 25, 2005 was the day Brett Battaglia and her family flew down to New Orleans to move Battaglia into her dorm room at Loyola University. Buddig Hall Room 210 was her room, and, as for most college students, moving in was no easy task for her.

But after she had unpacked for several hours and her family had left to check into a hotel, Battaglia was ready to mingle with her soon-to-be classmates, or so she thought.

“The diversity of the city drew me in like a bear to honey,” Battaglia said. “To me, there is no city as rich in spirit as good ole ‘Nawlins.'”

But unfortunately for Battaglia, her days in the Big Easy were coming to a screeching halt. The buzz about Hurricane Katrina was spreading like a disease in the New Orleans area, she said, and Loyola was still unsure what to do concerning evacuation plans.

“I could see it, though, the stores closing early, the boarding of the windows,” Battaglia said. “My mother, always cautious, thought it would be best to book me a flight home for a few days to shield me from the storm.”

It was not that easy, however, as all flights leaving the area were already booked or canceled, leaving Battaglia stranded. Luckily for her, however, the mother of a friend had decided to take a road trip to pick up her daughter, and Battaglia joined them. The goal was clear: get out of New Orleans as quickly as possible.

“The word on the street was that going westward was safe, so we decided to drive to Texas,” Battaglia said. “But it wasn’t easy getting there, and the usual three-hour drive from New Orleans to Houston ended up taking 15 hours.”

When she had finally arrived safely at her Houston hotel, all Battaglia could do was wait and hope. Because the hotel had equipped her with full Internet access, telephones and up-to-date news, Battaglia was able to keep up with what was happening. But rumors had already been circulating that the city would be flooded, maybe even destroyed.

“Thinking of all of my belongings floating down the Gulf of Mexico was not a happy thought,” she said. “I also just couldn’t imagine myself not going to school in New Orleans. I had my heart set on it. It was my new home and I had just moved in.”

With high hopes, Battaglia and those she was with that night went to sleep with prayers that New Orleans might be spared from the wrath of Katrina.

It wasn’t.

Fortunately for Battaglia, however, uptown New Orleans (where Loyola is located) did not suffer the full wrath of the storm. Only slight flooding occurred and most of her possessions remained intact.

Right after the hurricane struck, Battaglia was notified that Loyola would be closed for the rest of the semester. A sense of stress and panic immediately set in.

Does she stay home for a semester? Does she transfer? Does she go to community college? Does she even want to go back when school reopens? These were just a few of the several questions Battaglia wrestled with as she looked for a resolution.

Finally, one came.

“Villanova was really quick to respond, and they offered me a life,” Battaglia said. “Going to Villanova two weeks after school had started wasn’t my ideal start to freshman year, but it certainly was one that I will always remember.”

As one of the approximately 30 displaced students, Battaglia expressed how grateful she was to the University for its hospitality, but acknowledged that her first semester was anything but what she expected.

“It was a rough and at times frustrating first semester,” Battaglia said. “Living off campus was difficult, and I was away from the action. But at the time, it was also the experience I was hoping for.”

In December, the universities in the New Orleans area held open houses so that students could gather their belongings. While Battaglia was relieved to finally get her things back, she also admitted that it was hard dealing without everything she had left in her Loyola dorm.

“Just imagine everything that you see in your dorm, your computer, clothes and so on,” she said. “Now imagine that you have to leave it all in an instant, only to come back to it four months later.”

Due to the destruction left by Katrina, Loyola was forced to lay off approximately 230 faculty members and shut down several programs to cope. Loyola’s budget cuts totaled approximately $100 million. Included in these major cuts were several academic programs, extracurricular activities and sports teams.

In the surrounding area, houses were torn down. Fallen trees and ripped apart rooftops were the norm. The stench from the contaminated water and the now marsh-like area pervaded the streets of the once lively city. Signs saying “Don’t drink the water,” and “Thieves will be shot,” were posted in the area.

With all of these factors in mind, Battaglia realized,”New Orleans was not the place for me anymore.”

“It’s sad but true,” she said. “It wasn’t the same place. I still feel bad because I feel like I just left New Orleans, but I just couldn’t stay.”

After being accepted as a transfer student to the University’s College of Commerce and Finance in mid-December, Battaglia was ready to begin a new life.

“I decided to give Villanova another chance and I started over second semester,” she said.

Becoming involved in the Villanova Dance Company, Special Olympics and the sorority Delta Delta Delta helped ease in her transition as they “really helped a lot, especially tri-Delta, because they really made campus feel a lot smaller, and I now felt like I had even more true friends.”

Currently, Battaglia lives in Good Counsel Hall and is most likely going to declare an International Business/Spanish double major in C&F.

Battaglia, now about to complete her freshman year, said, “Villanova is awesome. The school is great for me academically, and it feels great to finally be able to settle down and be a student, not just a visiting or transfer student.”

“I’m a firm believer that ‘whatever happens, happens for a reason,'” she added. “This experience has forever changed me and has made me even more grateful for my family, friends and everything that I am so lucky to have. ‘Nova is home now and I honestly can’t picture myself anywhere else.”