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Brown students, alums cope in Katrina aftermath

By
Tuesday, September 6, 2005

One lost his grandmother’s home, another lost his pet, another lost his job. They were among the tens of thousands who fled the Gulf Coast and Hurricane Katrina’s path of destruction. They landed in Baton Rouge, Philadelphia, Providence – any place with dry land and clean water. Most don’t know if they’ll go back.

Though the Brown students and alums from the Louisiana area say they’ve been lucky, they, like so many others, have been uprooted by the disastrous hurricane that has buried the region in water and may have killed thousands.

On Aug. 28, two days before the hurricane hit his hometown of New Orleans, Jonathan Stricks ’05 bought beer, food and water for a “hurricane party” with some friends at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge who let him sleep on their couch to escape the approaching storm.

It wasn’t long before Stricks realized Katrina “would be ‘the one’ that they’ve been talking about our whole lives.”

Eighty miles away in New Orleans, Ryan Roth ’05 went to a bar with a group of friends who had decided to wait out the imminent hurricane.

When Roth left the bar that Saturday night, he found the city’s historic French Quarter eerily deserted. He decided to head to the airport at 2 a.m., where he was put on a flight for Monday afternoon. “But the airport will probably be under water at that point,” an airline employee told him. Using a cell phone borrowed from strangers after his phone’s battery died, Roth spoke to his mother, who finally got him on a flight to Chicago, where he got a connection to his hometown of Philadelphia.

With severe damage to regional phone lines and limited ability to return to the area to assess the wreckage, residents have had to improvise ways to check on friends, family and their homes.

Dade Veron ’07, who was with friends in Virginia when the hurricane struck, was relieved to find that “everything was still standing” at his Belle Chasse, La., home when he looked at aerial shots taken by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

When Margot Lawton ’07 found an insurance photo of her home, she saw that nearly every tree in her neighborhood in Mandeville, La., had been knocked down.

Roth has been able to check up on his home in the French Quarter thanks to the national news. His mom called to say his third-floor apartment – which looked relatively undamaged – was on the Weather Channel, and he saw footage of people looting his local supermarket on CNN.

Cell phones and landlines with area codes from the region are only just beginning to work again, so people have been relying on text messaging, e-mail and Web sites like Facebook.com, Friendster and MySpace to let people know they’re safe. Veron’s high school friend set up a site for their classmates to post information on everyone’s whereabouts. Some adults used their children’s Facebook.com accounts to communicate with each other.

Now that he knows his friends and family are safe, Stricks, a native of New Orleans, is attempting to restart his life. Since he will no longer be able to find a job in the city, he is headed to Atlanta and then the Northeast where he will stay with a friend’s parents until he can find a job.

Roth, who was working in the library at Tulane University, is now looking for jobs in Philadelphia and Providence. His friends from New Orleans are similarly considering leaving the city in order to find work. “Who can blame them?” he said. “We need a job, we need money.”

But Roth said he will be sad if he does have to leave the “jolt” of New Orleans permanently.

Stricks said he and his friends fear a change in the city’s spirit even more than the destruction of buildings. “What makes that city is its culture,” he said. “And that’s what we’re worried won’t be the same.”

But Veron is optimistic that the region will recover. “This isn’t the first storm we’ve seen,” he said. “People rebuild.”

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