Hurricane Katrina slammed the Gulf Coast in August, killing at least 1,422 people and causing more than $75 million in damage.
Many Southerners who escaped Katrina’s wrath have been returning to assess what is left of their homes and businesses. Though nothing can bring back what has been lost, thousands of volunteers have been doing what they can to ease residents’ pain.
More than 200 WUSTL students did just that over spring break. They traveled to Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama to clear trash, repair homes, prepare food and provide some measure of support to those hardest hit.
“The experience was incredible,” said junior Rachel Voss, who worked with Lutheran Campus Ministry in Bayou La Batra, Ala. “We were definitely challenged by the construction, which included measuring, cutting and hanging plywood walls, attaching trim and installing doors. But, I learned a lot about construction, and the family (being helped) was very appreciative of us being there.
“By the end of the week, we didn’t want to leave. Everyone cried when we departed, including the owner of the house. It was, by far, the most meaningful and inspirational spring break I have had.”
Students traveled in seven groups, loosely coordinated by the University’s Community Service Program. The groups were the Catholic Student Center; Overflow, the ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ; St. Louis Hillel; Campus Y; Lutheran Campus Ministry; Engineers Without Borders; and members of an undergraduate course on Hurricane Katrina, titled “A Case Study in Disaster and Relief.”
The American Culture Studies course in Arts & Sciences is team-taught by T.R. Kidder, Ph.D., professor of anthropology in Arts & Sciences; and Stephen Gibson, Ph.D., lecturer in American Culture Studies.
In the course, students are exploring the disaster from an academic and a service-learning perspective. They are studying the physical, environmental and cultural context of the northern Gulf Coast and investigating how the hurricane and its aftermath affected the human populations of the area.
A service mission to St. Bernard Parish near New Orleans, one of the areas hardest-hit by Katrina, was a big part of the class’ focus.
Sophomore David Schwartz, along with seven other students, was on the Hillel trip to Biloxi, Miss. There he fixed roofs with more than 150 other Jewish students from around the country.
Students and administrators will gather for a public presentation of photographs, stories and memories titled “Faces of Katrina” from 5-6:30 p.m. April 5 in the Women’s Building. The University community is invited to attend. For more information, call 935-5599.
“After hearing about the destruction and witnessing it firsthand, it meant a lot to be able to contribute to repairing the Gulf Coast, an often forgotten area hit by Katrina,” Schwartz said.
Senior Mike Duncan visited New Orleans with the Overflow group.
“My experience left a lasting impression on my heart for the city and people of New Orleans,” Duncan said. “My heart broke in New Orleans as I met and built friendships with the people whose houses we gutted. Their stories were filled with unanticipated loss and journeys home that had made each of them a different person.
“I will always remember my friendships with Rhonda, Linda, Scott, Dena and Bobby because these people gave me so much. We were able to give them a gutted home, a blank canvas with which they could rebuild their home, but they inspired us to persevere through our present and future struggles.”