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UVa Students Volunteer In New Orleans

By: Elizabeth Donatelli
By: Elizabeth Donatelli

January 19, 2006

A group of UVa students cut their winter vacation short to help victims of hurricane Katrina.

Thousands of people were victims of hurricane Katrina, losing everything the owned. UVa students helped the clean-up effort for people returning for the first time and saw first-hand the problems in New Orleans.

"You don't get what 260,000 homes destroyed means until you go into a house and you see refrigerators that haven't been touched in five months and you touch sheet rock and it crumbles into a pile at your foot because it had been sitting under water for three weeks," said 3rd-Year UVa student Ross Baird.

Twenty-four UVa students spent a week learning about New Orleans culture and another week helping the clean-up.

"On the front of the houses there were these X's that said the house had been inspected by FEMA. Under the X's, there were the number of dead bodies they had found inside the house," said Baird. "When you started seeing one, two, three under the X's...that was pretty intense."

One elderly couple they helped found drinking glasses still intact, which reminded the woman of the parties she used to have.

"She said at one point that she didn't think she had use for the cups anymore, but I told her I was pretty sure I saw a party in her future," said Elizabeth Dykes, 3rd-Year UVa Student.

What shocked most of the students was the amount of devastation still in New Orleans.

"Going down there and coming back you realize how much really needs to be done an how much help they really need," said Dykes.

Students cleaned out houses with survivors who entered them for the first time in 5 months.

"Watching them try to find a wedding dress or a baby book, or a trophy, and know that that's their only possession left in the world that we needed to preserve it--there was an inspiration and a need to kind of reach out and touch people," said faculty team leader Nicole Hurd.

"Actually being able to add a little bit, even if it wasn't much, but to add something to the recovery process was just an amazing feeling," said 2nd-Year UVa Student Ben Cooper.

The final class's final project is to write a rebuilding plan for the city. The instructor hops that they may come up with creative answers that the generation working on the "real plan" may not have thought of.

To see the students' journals you can log onto UVa's website at www.virginia.edu and search keyword: Katrina.


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