Students spend fall break in Katrina cleanup
Hurricane Katrina memories may have faded from the consciousness of many in the U.S., but help to salvage the remains of homes is still needed and appreciated. A group of 90 University students volunteered over fall break to help families in Chalmette, Louisiana, located in Saint Bernard Parish in the New Orleans metro area. Their focus was to help elderly and disabled residents to gut their homes.
“The first day we were there, I walked through a home and I began to get emotional, and I wondered how the people who lived there could bear it,” said Lydia Grafton, SGA President. “Pictures, pill bottles, insulation, furniture, mold…nothing had been touched. Everything had to be removed first. We would create a pile of regular items and a pile of electrical items, and then start the hard work of ripping out cabinetry and knocking down walls.”
Three groups of University students worked to gut an apartment complex while six other groups worked on two houses. They saw homes marked with zeros and numbers, indicating the number of bodies they had housed in the wake of the hurricane. Grafton said the neighborhoods the students saw reminded her of a ghost town; one home on a street would have Halloween decorations and sense of normalcy, and the surrounding homes were in ruins and uninhabitable.
The students worked through Hilltop Rescue, which provided housing at a local elementary school, three squares and hot showers for $10 a day.
“I was really glad for the hot showers, because our students worked among rats, the biggest roaches you have ever seen, and so much dirt. The houses had been filled to the top with water,” Grafton said. “We had so many conversations about the conditions there…it’s just horrible that it is still like that. I felt very badly for the cities outside New Orleans, those that have not had enough government attention.”
The trip left the students wondering how people globally cope with natural disasters. Grafton questioned why representatives from government at all levels have not worked cohesively to provide structure for revitalization after Katrina.
The students’ task left them with sore muscles and sometimes overwhelming emotions.
Although she feared the students would come away discouraged, Grafton was pleasantly surprised that the trip seemed to energize everyone.
“I was excited so many students went and wanted t help. SGA wants to offer an ongoing fall break service trip to University students, to encourage them to experience what could be a life-changing experience,” Grafton said.
To offset student costs, the Chancellor’s Office, Student Government Association, the Presbyterian House, and Student Development supported the effort.
November 10, 2006