Stark staff member survives hurricane

Rebekah Mosora

A planned relaxing weekend at a luxury hotel in New Orleans turned into an adventure for a Kent State Stark Campus staff member and a friend.

Pamela Bash, the senior development associate for alumni relations at Stark campus, and her friend, Daphne Thomson, were traveling to New Orleans for a long weekend. Neither of them had been to the Big Easy before, and they were looking forward to the girls-only trip.

The pair arrived in New Orleans on a Thursday afternoon, not aware of the devastation that would follow.

“It wasn’t until Saturday morning that the area started to realize Hurricane Katrina was going to hit,” Bash said. “We tried to evacuate, but planes and rental cars were all booked, taken or no longer functioning. We knew by Saturday evening that we were going to have to stick it out.”

They spent Sunday waiting in the hotel and left their rooms to go to the hotel’s ballroom at 7 a.m. Monday.

“They evacuated all of us to the ballroom to wait out the storm,” Bash said. “We just took a blanket and a pillow, and everyone went down to either sleep or make the best of what was to come. Where we were sitting, you could actually see the chandelier moving because the winds were so strong.”

Later Monday evening, people were allowed to go back to their rooms if there was no damage. Bash said they stayed in their room for three more days, only coming out for meals. The hotel had no functioning toilets or water, and food was strictly rationed.

Bash said they were given 6 ounces of water along with a small portion of food at meals. She said their last meal at the hotel included three small baguettes and three cubes of Swiss cheese.

“Despite the meager meals, the staff still put floral arrangements out on the tables at mealtime,” Thomson said. “I can’t say enough about the staff at the Ritz Carlton. They were amazing. They had opportunities to leave but chose to stay and take care of the people who were stranded.”

Wednesday evening, they were told that the hotel had buses coming in and the first 100 people signed up would be able to evacuate that evening. Bash said that they had to leave most of their luggage in the room and could only take what they could carry.

“We saved plastic bags that were in our garbage cans,” she said. “Everyone taped those around their legs to try and protect them from what was going to be in the water.”

The group walked through waist-high water on Canal Street to meet the buses. The first 50 people took the first bus, and the rest, including Bash and Thomson, waited for the second to come. They stood in the dark surrounded by looters for an hour until hearing that the other bus would not be coming that night, Bash said. The group was escorted into a nearby Marriott and stayed there that night and the following day.

The long-awaited buses did not make it to the hotel until 1 a.m. on Friday, she said. After a two hour and thirty minute bus ride, they arrived at a Baton Rouge Marriott where warm food, cold beverages and running water awaited them. The pair took a taxi to the airport and got separate standby flights out of the area.

Bash arrived home late in the afternoon Friday to find an unexpected surprise in her home: water damage.

“I got hit twice by the hurricane,” Bash said. “I came home to damage to my roof in my family room. That wasn’t fun to come home to, but at least I was home.”

Bash’s coworkers at Stark Campus awaited her safe return.

“We were worried about her clearly; this is not something you want anybody to have to go through,” Stark Campus Dean Betsy Boze said. “They did a great job of staying in touch with us through their family members and what little cell phone coverage they had.

“We knew they were OK, but it was sort of a day-by-day experience of when are they coming back, how are they getting out, how are they doing and how are they coping. Everybody knew she was there and wanted her back safely.”

Contact regional campus reporter Rebekah Mosora at [email protected].