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As Hurricane Rita Makes Landfall, Students Continue to Grapple with Effects of Katrina

As Hurricane Rita approached the Gulf Coast of Texas this past weekend, we were all too quickly reminded of the devastation that Hurricane Katrina brought to the New Orleans region.

Hurricane Katrina had, at last count, claimed the lives of over 1000 people, who were unable or unwilling to evacuate before the Hurricane approached land. The damage to city of New Orleans itself was nearly unimaginable and many anticipate that it will take billions of dollars over the course of many years to rebuild the coastal communities of Louisiana and Mississippi. Perhaps even more upsetting has been the political and social fallout that has surfaced in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, as the country struggles with questions surrounding the relief effort of federal authorities.

Members of the HBS community have been both directly and indirectly affected by the events of Hurricane Katrina. The Harbus asked several students with ties to the New Orleans area about their personal experiences with the events that have transpired and that seem particularly relevant given the situation that the coastal communities of Texas now face in light of Hurricane Rita.

Heather Thompson (NG)

Harbus: What is your affiliation to the New Orleans region?
HT:
I was born and raised in New Orleans. I left New Orleans after high school to attend the University of Virginia. After UVA, I worked in New York and then Chicago. Although I haven’t really lived in N.O. since high school, my parents still live there, so I still consider it “home.”

Harbus: How have you been directly or indirectly affected by the consequences of Hurricane Katrina?
HT:
My family has been completely displaced as a result of Katrina. My mother had left New Orleans on the Saturday before the hurricane hit to fly to Boston in order to help me move into the dorms. My father was planning on staying in New Orleans to “ride out the storm” until he became convinced that this storm presented a significant threat to his safety. He evacuated New Orleans on the Sunday before the storm hit.

He remained in Destin, FL for several days until he could secure temporary living arrangements in Baton Rouge. Now, he is still in Baton Rouge, eagerly awaiting the moment that he is able to return to the city to try to begin rebuilding our house. As far as we know, we have lost everything of a material nature, as our house is located in close proximity to the 17th St. canal. We believe the structure of the house is still standing, but we are unsure as to whether it will be inhabitable.

Throughout HBS orientation, I served as a “command control center” for all of my parents’ neighbors, my family, and my friends, since none of them could communicate with each other due to the lack of cellular service. Since I had a non-New Orleans area code, everyone could get through to me fairly easily. I spent every free moment of my time trying to update everyone on everyone else’s whereabouts. Needless to say, it was quite a hectic beginning to my time here at HBS. Fortunately, however, everyone here at HBS has been incredibly supportive. The faculty, staff, and students have made this entire experience as bearable for me as possible. It is really nice to know that I have such a strong support network in place here at HBS.

Harbus: What do you think will be the biggest challenge in addressing the destruction/fallout of Hurricane Katrina?
HT:
The biggest challenge will be convincing people to move back to the city and convincing businesses to invest in the city again. I am also skeptical of the state and local government’s ability to manage the rebuilding process. Unfortunately, New Orleans has a history of mismanagement. If the federal government puts large sums of money in peoples’ hands and then turns its back, I am afraid that the funds will not be dispensed wisely. I hope that the public eye will remain fixed on New Orleans for a long time so that the momentum behind rebuilding will not be lost.

Harbus: What is your hope for the people, places of New Orleans and surrounding areas during the rebuilding process in the aftermath of Katrina?
HT:
I hope that everyone recognizes that Katrina has provided the city with a chance to make a fresh start. There are some wonderful things about New Orleans that are worth preserving: its architecture, its culture, and its food, just to name a few. However, there are some real problems that should be remedied during the rebuilding process, such as the social woes of the city – specifically the socioeconomic and racial divides and the substandard school system. I hope that the aftermath of Katrina will bring what was a dying city, in many respects, into the 21st century.

Chris Harlan (OB)

Harbus: What is your affiliation to the New Orleans region?
CH:
Born and raised in New Orleans until leaving for college in 1997. ÿMy parents lived there until May of this year, when they sold their house and moved to Texas (blind luck in hindsight).

Harbus: How have you been directly or indirectly affected by the consequences of Hurricane Katrina?
CH:
It’s been tough to see what happened to the city, especially since I’m familiar with many of the affected areas – couldn’t stay away from CNN or the Internet that first week. ÿFortunately my extended family and friends in the city evacuated prior to the storm and all are safe and sound. ÿHowever, some relatives have had serious flood damage in their homes and worst of all have been displaced for the immediate future.

Harbus: What do you think will be the biggest challenge in addressing the destruction/fallout of Hurricane Katrina?
CH:
Mistakes were clearly made, and the public officials need to get over the blame game and focus on recovery efforts. ÿI’m also worried that businesses will be slow to return to New Orleans and the eventual return to normalcy will be delayed.

Harbus: What is your hope for the people, places of New Orleans and surrounding areas during the rebuilding process in the aftermath of Katrina?
CH:
I hope that the city can turn this tragedy into a positive by rebuilding a progressive, integrated American city that retains the charm that made it special to many residents and visitors.ÿ I also hope that all of the affected people are able to get back on their feet, wherever they may be.

Steven Denny (ND)

Harbus: What is your affiliation to the New Orleans region?
SD:
New Orleans is my home; I was born and raised there. I lived in the city through high school. My entire family lived there before the storm. My grandmother and every one of my aunts, uncles, cousins, and other extended family members on both sides lived in the city.

Harbus: How have you been directly or indirectly affected by the consequences of Hurricane Katrina?
SD:
Though all of my family is alive and accounted for, most of them lost everything. Obviously, it has been very hard for us and it has been particularly hard for me to try to focus on school with everything going on.

Harbus: What do you think will be the biggest challenge in addressing the destruction/fallout of Hurricane Katrina?
SD:
I think by far the biggest challenge is going to be for America to address some of the deeper sociological and societal issues that the Hurricane uncovered. We must ask the tough questions- Why was aid dispensed so slowly in such a dire emergency? Why did we focus so much of our attention on the looting? Did the collective nonchalance of the government signal a disregard for the lower class? Did it signal a disregard for Black Americans? Why are those two groups so often one in the same?

I think the events of the past few weeks have highlighted some of the shameful disparities that exist between classes in our country. I would never have imagined that something this terrible could have happened in the United States.

Harbus: What is your hope for the people, places of New Orleans and surro
unding areas during the rebuilding process in the aftermath of Katrina?
SD:
I hope that that the officials of Louisiana see the opportunity that this horrible tragedy has provided. Officials need to rebuild the city in the short term, but they also need to think long term. They should be planning how they can use some of the monetary aid to invest in the city’s economic development so that 33% of its population isn’t struggling to survive below the poverty level as well as the sea level.
I also hope that the city can maintain its unique culture and charm during the rebuilding process and that the residents will not move away permanently.

September 26, 2005
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