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SMC professors stuck in New Orleans

Megan O'Neil | Thursday, September 1, 2005

Unable to escape New Orleans as Hurricane Katrina bore down on the city, two Saint Mary’s professors remained stranded in their hotel on Canal Street Wednesday as water levels rose and looters ransacked nearby shops.

Spanish professor Jennifer Zachman and psychology professor Karen Chambers had spent the weekend in New Orleans at an Advanced Placement Testing conference and were scheduled to fly out Sunday.

With the storm approaching, their flight was canceled and the two women were forced to wait out Katrina and remain in their hotel – the Sheraton News Orleans Hotel at 500 Canal Street – two blocks from the river and one block from the French Quarters.

Communicating with the College in brief and sporadic e-mails since Monday, Zachman and Chambers said a hotel generator provided occasional internet access and some light.

“All the windows [of the hotel] are gone, but we are in the inner core and will probably be OK but wet in the end,” the pair wrote Monday. “The building shook a few times when it was hit by something, but EMT have inspected and feel we are safe here still, or at least safer.”

Later Monday, after the eye of the storm had passed, Zachman and Chambers wrote again to assure colleagues of their safety and expressed gratitude.

“There is major debris in the street, lots of windows broken, trees uprooted, a few crushed cars that we can see,” they wrote.

The hotel staff had been “magical” toward its stranded guests, the women said, and had provided food.

Saint Mary’s Italian department chair Nancy D’Antuono, who spoke with Zachman by phone at 5 p.m. Tuesday, said the two women had been instructed to fill their bathtub with water before the storm hit and to use it for hygienic purposes.

“They are hardly in the most elegant circumstances,” D’Antuono said. “They were in good spirits, they were just tired of the heat, the worry, and the inconvenience.”

They hoped to be able to leave the city soon either by plane or bus by Wednesday morning, the women said.

The situation grew increasingly dire, however, when two levees, designed to protect the New Orleans from ocean swells, gave way Tuesday flooding 80 percent of the city.

Images showed hurricane victims wading through chest-deep water on the famed Canal Street. Aggressive looters broke windows and stole off with goods, often in plain sight of police offices and state guardsmen, the Associated Press reported.

Early Wednesday, Zachman and Chambers wrote and said they were still unable to leave the hotel.

“The flood waters keep rising, so things aren’t all that great,” they wrote. “We probably won’t get out for a few more days. There was one road out last night, but it may or may not be there this morning. Yesterday we almost got out, but the buses were flooded. It is hot and smelly but we are still eating.”

In their last communication with the College Wednesday afternoon, they said they did not anticipate being able to leave any time soon.

“It is looking like it will be a long time [before we can leave],” they wrote. “The water continues to rise and we are pretty low on the evacuation list.”

Joe Miller of the psychology department said students in Chambers’ class were being instructed to keep up with the work assigned to the syllabus. If she has not returned by Monday, he said, other professors will cover her classes.

Various professors were filling in for Zachman until she returned, Spanish professor Isis Quinteros said.