Katrina: ‘Just the act of going helped’

Chronicle Staff

Although it has been over a year since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, by most accounts, the region is still in shambles. Billions in aid, promised by the federal government, have been slow to arrive, and charity money is starting to disappear as more people forget about the disaster.

Responding to the desperate cries of help from the Gulf Coast, several students chose to spend part of their summer helping to rebuild the storm-ravaged region, including Matt Moran ’07. Moran traveled to New Orleans with about 30 other teens from his Palisades Presbyterian Church youth group in late June and early July.

“We wanted to give people new hope for the future, and we wanted to help them start their lives over after they had to leave their hometown for so long,” Moran said. Upon his arrival in New Orleans, Moran’s group went on a tour around the different neighborhoods.

“The Lower Ninth ward, as the reports had said, was by far the worst hit. We saw all the devastation,” Moran said.

“We started by cleaning yards and removing debris. We were cleaning out houses and we removed water-damaged insulation. We helped recover furniture out of the destroyed houses,” he said.

The program Moran was a part of was organized by one of the local Presbyterian churches on Canal Street in New Orleans.

“They contacted all the Presbyterian churches around the nation, and we were one of the ones that responded,” Moran said.

Due to the levee breaks, New Orleans became the focus of Katrina relief efforts. However, many other cities and towns along the Gulf Coast were also demolished by Katrina.

One such town is Pullington, Mississippi, near Gulf Port, where Elisabeth Smith ’07 worked with her temple to help renovate a park and to deliver flowers.
 
“The area was supposedly in the eye of the storm. The devastation was overwhelming also because it is such a small city,” Smith said.

“Our temple worked with Ameri Corps and stayed at a local elementary school. There were about 100 other people working with us there. Many of them were from Texas, and they were so warm and welcoming us, especially since we came all the way from Los Angeles.”

Although they only worked for four days, “just the act of going” helped, Smith said.

“Even if we didn’t do much, our help was really appreciated.”
While the efforts of the thousands of volunteers in the area is helping move along the recovery effort, there is, by any measure, plenty of work still to be done.
 
“It was a really humbling experience because we never imagined it would be that bad after a year,” Smith said.

“It’s hard to explain the devastation without actually seeing it,” Moran said.
“You can’t get a good idea of the extent of it without viewing it with your own eyes.”

Nevertheless, surrounded by all this destruction, the residents of the Gulf Coast remain strong. Moran recalled a woman whom he helped renovate her ruined house.
 
“She was so nice, so cheery,” Moran said. “I couldn’t understand how she could be so positive in the midst of so much destruction.”