Ryan Chartrand


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Realizing how poor and impoverished the people were before the hurricane hit was the most shocking thing,” said business administration senior Scott West. “They really didn’t have any options since they didn’t have the financial means to recover.”

The development and rebuilding of the areas where Hurricane Katrina hit spans highs and lows of perfectly remodeled to absolutely abandoned. A group from the Newman Catholic Center was able to see this rollercoaster of change as they traveled to Bayou La Batre, Ala., during spring break.

Ten students and two staff members flew out to New Orleans on March 25 then took a three-hour van ride to Bayou La Batre. A parish put them up for the five days that they were there, providing cots to sleep on, showers and food.

“The people were super nice and the meaning of Southern hospitality,” West said. “They brought us trays and trays of dessert to welcome us. They were so excited that we were there.”

Once settled in, the team set out to work on a pair of houses that were almost done and ready to be completely lived in.

“(The Catholic Social Services Organization) had been working on two different houses for several months before we got there,” said biological sciences senior Rebecca Cohen. “So we basically helped them finish. We were doing painting and some little cleanup stuff.”

One of the homes that the group worked on housed a disabled resident who was really in need because he wasn’t able to do the same repairs that other households would be able to do themselves.

Because this city in Alabama doesn’t border the levees, the houses are generally in better shape than those directly hit by feet and feet of water. However, the Newman group definitely saw their share of disaster.

“When we drove through the town, there were quite a few places where you would see part of a home, what’s left of a home, a home that obviously needs a lot of repair, with a trailer next to it,” Cohen said. “I can’t imagine living in a trailer outside of my house, waking up in my trailer and constantly having that reminder of what once was. And the people are obviously devastated in living where they are.”

Cohen also had a unique opportunity in that she was able to visit two mobile homes that were affected by the storm.

“We went and visited families that are hopefully going to be able to be helped in the future,” Cohen said. “We witnessed firsthand the conditions that people are still living in. We walked into the mobile home and you felt the floor uneven beneath your feet. The kitchen, the sink and the whole countertop were tilted to the side.

“I was very careful with my step as I walked through there. When there is any kind of natural disaster involving water, mold is a always (a) concern. The second mobile home was a case of that. The carpet was all dried out. You couldn’t tell the house had been moist, but there was a smell. There were a bunch of little kids, and the mom had to take them to sleep other places because it was making them sick. There was mold growing inside the walls. It was something I’ll remember for a long time.”

While many families struggled to pull themselves together, there were certain areas that definitely showed a bit of financial capability. Beachfront vacation homes stood gorgeous and completely rebuilt on the shores of the Mobile Bay and the Gulf, where Bayou La Batre sits.

The comparison between the two different kinds of properties was very distinct and the group caught on to that difference right away.

“A lot of the destruction was near the Gulf of Mexico. For the homes that were on six-foot stilts, all that was left were the stilts, no homes left at all. The homes they were rebuilding were on 10 to 15 foot stilts,” West said. “It was weird to see brand new gorgeous houses built right next to an empty lot. Stark contrast. If you had a good solid job, you could afford to rebuild, but a lot of people couldn’t. Many people had trailers parked out on their lots. It was really surprising to see it a year and a half later.

“There are still a number of organizations dedicated to relief efforts, although many have forgotten about the disaster that blew through the bustling center of culture.

“Since then, a lot has been done, (but) there is a lot of ground to go. Just because the media isn’t spotlighting it doesn’t mean that people aren’t in need. They still need help.

“Even if you don’t have any skills, there are plenty of opportunities to assist.”

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