Hurricane Katrina Spells Massive Cleanup

It’s hard to imagine the true cost of the devastation Hurricane Katrina swept across the southern coast of America last week. As officials continue the slow cleanup and evacuation, they can only estimate the toll of human lives lost.

While most of the media focus is on New Orleans, the most populated areas struck by the storm, parts of Mississippi and Alabama, also sustained significant damage.

Much of the damage to “the Big Easy” was sustained when several sections of the city’s levee system broke, causing massive flooding. To make matters worse, a large part of the city lies below sea level, intensifying flood damage and creating additional cleanup problems.

Though most of the city’s huge population managed to evacuate beforehand, displacing over one million people, many were unable or unwilling to leave their homes in time.

Tulane University, located in New Orleans, provided students with ample evacuation notification. “They told people to start evacuating on Saturday,” said senior Devon Robbie. “We left two days before the hurricane hit, so it wasn’t a rushed evacuation. Traffic was bad because the police shut down a couple highways and there were a lot of detours so we were stuck in traffic for a long time.”

For those who fled before the disaster the reality of the situation has just begun to sink in. “It’s weird for people who left beforehand, it’s abstract because I never saw anything. I just left and went to my friend’s parents’ house and watched it on the T.V. like everyone else. You watch the news and they play the same clips over and over, there’s no variety (of footage) so there’s no way of knowing how specific areas are.”

Many who stayed did so out of skepticism towards the hurricane warning system, described by Ms. Robbie as less than reliable. “There have been a lot of hurricane warnings over the past few years, so everyone just thought, ‘Oh, we’ll leave for a few days and then come back, like before.’ I remember in the past packing everything in my apartment into my little car, but this time I just left everything there and I don’t know what’s going to happen to it.”

Students of Tulane, dispersed throughout the south after their semester was cut short, now face the challenge of finding a surrogate school after classes have already begun. Luckily a multitude of colleges across the country are accepting the displaced students.

“A lot of different colleges are part of this aid program where if you paid your Tulane tuition you can attend school there. I don’t know if Tulane is giving each college tuition or if the other schools are letting them attend gratis,” said Robbie, who singed a lease for a Boston apartment last week and plans to attend B.U.

Public offices have come under scrutiny due to what has been termed a substandard evacuation and cleanup. Rioting and chaos overran what remained of New Orleans as citizens fought to get on evacuation vessels and looted local shops for food and valuables. President Bush has received much criticism for his slow, unfeeling reaction to the natural disaster which is thought to be the largest and most costly in American history.