When Sarah Landrum '09 returned to her hometown of New Orleans over winter break for the first time since Hurricane Katrina, she was shocked to see parts of her city still in complete devastation.
"Houses were toppled over in the street, and there were roofs with nothing under them at all. There were piles of debris everywhere and no signs of cleaning up or rebuilding," Landrum said of the areas around where the levees broke.
"People kept telling me that I was looking at the city much improved from before, but that was hard to believe," she said.
Senior Harry Jones also saw the city with his own eyes over break for the first time since Katrina hit. The first floor of Jones's home in New Orleans had been flooded to the ceiling in the weeks following the hurricane, and his parents returned after the storm to find their refrigerator moved, their grand piano flipped over, and a boat, Mercedes, and couch in their backyard.
Living in the Upper 9th Ward, Jones saw neighbors rebuilding their lives in New Orleans in ways that less affluent families simply can not.
"[The Upper 9th and Lower 9th] were both hit just as hard, but people who live in the Lower 9th have no chance of rebuilding while people who live in my neighborhood are coming back. It's not like Hurricane Katrina didn't happen for them, but their lives are moving on," he said.
"It was disconcerting because you know it wasn't like that for everyone," Jones said.
According to Landrum, the National Guard and the Red Cross are still present, providing meals and supplies to workers in a few locations around the city. However, Landrum feels significantly more still can be done to get the Gulf Coast back on its feet.
"It seems that [the need for relief] has been forgotten lately, and being down there over Christmas break made me realize how much more work there is still to be done," she said.
Although the Bowdoin community pulled together and responded en masse during the "Twelve Days of Attention," part of the Community Service Resource Center's (CSRC) organized response to the disaster, the long-term devastation in the Gulf Coast region is quickly slipping from the minds of many students who have begun to think of Katrina as a thing of the past.
"Maybe people have grown tired of talking about it or just don't realize how bad the situation still is in many areas," Landrum said.
IT students set up Mississippi computer lab
The constant cry for help from the Gulf Coast has not gone completely unheard, as is evident in the continued response by a few Bowdoin individuals since the national buzz about the crisis in New Orleans and surrounding areas has begun to subside.
Three students, with the help of a contact and some supplementary funding from Associate Professor of Biology Barry Logan and the CSRC, spent the last week of winter break in Long Beach, Mississippi, setting up a computer lab in a temporary school with 12 computers that Bowdoin had recently replaced with newer systems. Although as many as 40 surplus computers were available for the school, the number had to be reduced on account of transportation.
Logan's contact at the school was his second cousin Louie Lohan, a Catholic priest who saw his parish and affiliated school completely destroyed in the storm surge that followed Katrina. According to Logan, his cousin's parish quickly purchased one of the only local buildings that was still salvageable, a local hockey rink, and spent the next 19 days preparing it to act as a school and a place of worship.
Sophomores Lindsay Urquhart, Becca Lewis, and Abhijeet Jha, three "technically-proficient" students according to Logan, drove the computers down to Mississippi in a 12-passenger van and set up the computer lab in St. Thomas School.
"It was very evident in their warm welcome that they were very appreciative of Bowdoin's efforts and help," Jha said.
"We delivered our computers and helped Ann, [the St. Thomas computer teacher], set up a computer lab, just in time for the school to start the next day. While working on computers during the day, Ann, with tears almost welling up in her eyes, showed us pictures of the beautiful church and the school they had on the beach before the hurricane," Jha continued.
"The next day we drove along the beach: everything lay in rubbles. For miles and miles along the beach, everything was devastated. It was like walking into a war zone," he said.
Before the computers were transported, Bowdoin Information Technology (IT) installed and licensed them for Windows 2000, according to IT Director of Computing and Research Tad Macy.
"This took many phone calls to Microsoft followed by a good deal scrounging in IT and the Library to find the old CDs," Macy said.
"A good deal of time was spent trying to get donations or other help from Microsoft. With the properly-licensed version of Windows 2000, Microsoft could provide very inexpensive upgrades once the systems were in Mississippi," he said. According to Macy, IT is currently negotiating with Microsoft to get donations of XP and Office for the computers.
According to Logan, St. Thomas School, while in its previous location, had bought 27 new computers to furnish a state-of-the-art computer lab only months before the storm hit. After Katrina, the school received a number of computer donations from surrounding areas. However, many of the computers were obsolete, used incompatible operating systems, or were password-protected.
"They'd received a lot of help, but it didn't turn out to be all that helpful without the expertise [to get a lab set up]," he said.
Refugee professor calls New Orleans a "dead city"
In addition to contributing $30,000 to three historically-black colleges and universities in the Gulf Coast, the College also opened a number of visiting professorships to faculty displaced from colleges in areas affected by Katrina, one of which went to Visiting Professor of Psychology Ronald Murphy.
Murphy, who had been on the faculty of historically-black Dillard University for six years, had just bought a house in New Orleans when the hurricane hit. Murphy left New Orleans 24 hours before the storm arrived and drove to Memphis, where he spent four days waiting for the water to recede before continuing up to Boston where his family lives.
His one-story house flooded to the roof, destroying all of his belongings, save for a few basic items he threw into a bag before evacuating the city.
"All of my papers and things I've collected over the years are destroyed," Murphy said. "Stuff I've collected over the years?nothing that's valuable but things that were personal to me."
"I had my whole life there: my house, my job, my friends, my students?I miss my students?just my daily routine. It's all gone," he said.
Dillard University has reopened for the spring semester in a temporary location in the Hilton Riverside Hotel in New Orleans. According to Murphy, who would have been up for tenure this year at Dillard, both faculty and student housing and classroom space are located in the hotel.
Murphy, who will only be at Bowdoin this spring before starting a permanent job at Francis Marion University in Florence, South Carolina, is teaching two classes this semester: Substance Use and Abuse, and Trauma and Stress.
Since Murphy specializes in studies of post-traumatic stress syndrome, he has found his own response to the hurricane interesting.
"I haven't had many post traumatic symptoms, but I have had two nightmares with flooding, and I left 24 hours early," he said. "I didn't even see flooding."
Murphy is grateful to Bowdoin for the offering him a job as a visiting professor, especially because the bureaucracy in New Orleans made it nearly impossible to file for unemployment.
"Bowdoin has taken care of me," he said. "They're letting me teach classes in my area. The psychology faculty has been unbelievably generous."
According to Murphy, Bowdoin students are very intelligent and welcoming, though different than those he left behind.
"It's a different population?an elite population. I've taught at schools before with very underprivileged students," Murphy said.
"The hardest part is that I just want to go home, and I can't go home," he said.
Bowdoin hopefuls look ahead
Mary Kate Wheeler '07, who spent two weeks over winter break serving 1,500 meals a day as a volunteer in a New Orleans kitchen called Made With Love Café, urges the Bowdoin community to remain involved in Katrina relief efforts.
"There is such a huge need for volunteers right now, and the residents show a humble and profound gratitude for the presence of volunteers and the work they are doing," Wheeler said.
"Many residents feel as if they were repeatedly betrayed by the government, and they see the presence of volunteers as a sign that their nation has not forgotten their suffering," she said.
Wheeler plans to return to New Orleans over spring break to continue to help the city she saw so devastated just this month.
"There are piles of garbage taller than houses all throughout the 9th Ward, and many of the homes are destroyed beyond repair. It's not uncommon to see refrigerators on top of houses, or houses on top of cars," she said.
"Residents are starting to return to their homes and clean them out, but living and working conditions are terrible. The mold in many areas is toxic, and workers have to wear respirators and protective suits. Many people don't have access to food, electricity, or safe shelter," she added.
Director of the Community Service Resource Center Susie Dorn has plans to facilitate future responses from Bowdoin students in the Gulf Coast area.
According to Dorn, the campus already raised $5,191 during the 12 Days of Attention to be sent to the Red Cross Relief Fund, as well as collected 24 boxes of clothing through the African-American Society to help with relief efforts. Plans for the upcoming months include an Alternative Spring Break Habitat for Humanity trip to Mississippi and a labor trip for students and staff to the Gulf Coast over senior week.
"From 9/11 and then the tsunami we have learned that there is a need for having plans in place for coordinating responses to such disasters," Dorn said.
"People want?and in many ways feel compelled?to act. Because Bowdoin is an academic institution, however, our response is strongest if it is connected to learning. Service is a catalyst for wanting to know more," she said.