Students spend spring break cleaning up the aftermath of Katrina

By Michelle Gilbert U-WIRE

DEKALB, Ill. – Nine members of Northern Illinois University-area Immanuel Lutheran Church spent Spring Break cleaning up homes affected by Hurricane Katrina.

A week was spent removing stale, flood-damaged belongings, electronics and appliances, ripping out sopping wet carpet, tearing down drywall and removing ceiling fans and lights.

“[Homes were gutted] so the family could have a fresh start, and to prepare for the next people to come in and work on the house, put up new plumbing, electrical, new everything,” said Stephen Lamb, a senior industrial engineering major and group member on the trip.

Setting up camp

The military-style, tent-city kind of camp named Camp Premier in St. Bernard Parish, La., had its own culture among the 1,300 volunteers temporarily residing in its borders during the week of March 13.

Camp Premier met our basic needs. The food was amazing, the showers were nice and the camp even provided volunteers with laundry service.

“I love this camp,” said Richard Reinhardt, a junior community and regional planning major at Iowa State University. “The food is awesome, air-conditioned tents and having a laundry service is nice.”

Volunteers found themselves sometimes waiting in long lines for the shower after days of gutting homes and sleeping on cots.

They fed on and learned from other groups originating from places such as Howard University, Duke University and other schools throughout the country. Volunteer groups also originated in Montana and Iowa.

Preparing for work

Orientation sessions were required of volunteers before starting to work on homes. The sessions went over processes of how to gut a house, safety requirements and what to be prepared for, such as high temperatures, smells, rats, snakes, spiders and nutria [a 30-pound, rat-like water-loving animal brought in to Louisiana for breeding].

Our group found things such as photo albums, trophies, certificates and other personal belongings. All these now-wet belongings were put into wheelbarrows and carried out of the house.

“You felt like you got to know them,” said Justin Dooley, a group member and senior accounting major. “You felt empathy for them and you understand they’re not very different from you.”

A unique experience

Even now, six months after Katrina hit the shores of Louisiana, many areas are still in great need of help.

“I see everybody trying to cope, trying to wake up in the morning and deal with emotions and struggling to go on with life,” said Steven Gallodoro, a St. Bernard Parish fire inspector.

Gallodoro also commented on the lack of decision-making by local, state and federal levels of government concerning the Katrina Hurricane disaster. Families are in the situation where they have a limited amount of money and no flood insurance.

Homes have to be gutted whether or not the family decides to come back, Gallodoro said. Should the family next door come back, it gives that family a chance to start over in a clean environment.

Through hard work and relaxation, the group grew as a team and made for a really good week.

“Really tired, going back to the cot, I hope we get food, tater tot,” rapped Jenna Wright, a junior journalism major, in the car while Pastor Marty Marks drove back to Camp Premier after a long day of hard work.