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ND students help Katrina relief

Marcela Berrios | Friday, September 1, 2006

Tuesday marked the first anniversary since Hurricane Katrina’s raging winds and waters destroyed the homes and lives of countless families living in and around New Orleans.

It may have happened a year ago, but that does not mean the victims of Katrina have moved on – and neither have the members of the Notre Dame community tied to the disaster.

“People are still suffering emotionally, psychologically and economically from Hurricane Katrina,” junior Radhika Deva said.

Deva spent her summer in New Orleans ripping out molding walls and ceilings in houses that were evacuated immediately after the levees collapsed and stayed abandoned for more than nine months.

“It’s tragic to see entire families coming back to their homes for the first time and finding everything destroyed and scattered,” she said.

Deva and a few other Notre Dame students traveled to New Orleans as part of a Center for Social Concerns Summer Service Project.

In the last year, the CSC has sent more than 65 students to the Katrina-ravaged region, said Bill Purcell, associate director of Catholic Social Tradition and Practice.

“As a student body at a religiously affiliated institution of higher learning, we need to act in solidarity with the folks in the Gulf Region to address the systemic problems which will take a decade to overcome,” he said.

The CSC recently began a Gulf Coast Task Force designed to assist with student

interest in continuing the relief and recovery efforts in the Gulf region.

Students like junior Caity Schneeman, who visited the New Orleans region twice in the last year, have become key players in the creation of this project.

“The whole area is in dire need of helping hands, but here is one of those cases where people don’t really understands how bad things are until they see for themselves,” she said.

As chair of the task force, Schneeman is already organizing another trip to New Orleans during fall break, where students will be gutting and rebuilding homes.

About 80 people are signed up to travel to Louisiana in October.

One of them is sophomore Luis Crespo, who said it would be his second time helping out in New Orleans.

“The sheer amount of destruction down there struck me, and I really encourage anybody who has the opportunity to go to do it,” he said.

The Alliance for Catholic Education has also been working relentlessly all year to help with the reconstruction of the city’s education system.

Students working as teachers in the ACE program saw their schools in Biloxi, Mississippi, destroyed by the waters.

While they were forced to evacuate the region, most of the ACE participants returned in less than one week to help coordinate the initial rescue and relief efforts, said John Staud, director of Pastoral Formation and Administration for ACE.

“ACE raised over $150,000 last fall, which was sent to the schools to support the

rebuilding and the continued education of students whose families lost almost everything,” he said.

Other ACE participants in the Baton Rouge area welcomed the storm’s refugees, offering daytime and nighttime school sessions to accommodate the region’s newly-doubled population, Staud said.

One year after the storm first hit, some people still haven’t returned to their old homes – if those homes even remain.

“Being there was depressing at first; the city is not functional,” Deva said of her New Orleans experience. “There are no children playing in the street, and half of the businesses are closed, and everywhere there are wrecked houses. …

“The local people, though, are absolutely inspiring.”

Deva said she and her fellow Notre Dame volunteers met the owner of every house they cleared, in an effort to connect the work they were doing to real faces and real people.

“We were taught to treat the house as if it were the owner itself,” Deva said.

Completing one house took approximately three days, and while she thinks she may have worked on more than one hundred homes, Deva stressed the many more houses still in need of work and volunteers.

“The people down there don’t need prayers,” she said. “They need people to come help with the clean-up. There is just so much work that needs to get done.”