Distance: 1,456 miles. Time: 21 hours.
Fort Collins may be far from New Orleans, but evacuees of Hurricane Katrina agree that there is still a lot that Coloradans can do to help.
“Everyone wanted to help at first, but a lot of people don’t know how bad it still is,” said Nick Cardinale, a senior English major, and native of New Orleans. “People assume it’s back to normal.”
Normal is the last word that should be used to describe this southern city. Tiffany Picus, who was evacuated from the city and came to CSU, said there are still large, low-income neighborhoods where little or no work is being done, and other places are still without electricity.
“We’re trying to get back to a normal routine, but it’s really not possible,” Cardinale said.
However, the younger generation sees hope.
“My parents are different since the storm,” said Picus, a junior biochemistry and art double major. “They lost a lot, but our generation is trying to get back together.”
New Orleans residents weren’t the only affected. Students from all over the country who came to the city for school were sent home, but many have returned.
“I am thrilled to be back,” said Ted Long, a sophomore at Loyola, who is originally from Colorado. “I love the culture, the music, the people, everything. Now is the best time to be here because there is so much good to be done.”
Long, a bass player in a jazz band, has played benefit concerts for the Katrina cause, and thinks both Regis, the school he was displaced to last fall, and Loyola, handled the situation “wonderfully.”
Although Long sees New Orleans, which was destroyed by a category four hurricane a year ago today, as “loving, great and wonderful,” he’s noticed political turmoil since the storm.
“People now feel really passionately about the politics down here,” he said. “There are a lot of changes to be made, and if it’s going to occur, it will be more effective from a larger political body, not just the state and local government.”
William Chaloupka, chair of the political science department, agreed, but also said that “New Orleans has always been a city that’s paid a lot of attention to its politics.”
Chaloupka visited New Orleans twice in the spring.
“It’s hard to go anywhere in New Orleans without remembering Katrina,” Chaloupka said. “The rest of the country is moving on and there hasn’t been much coverage, but really for people in New Orleans, Katrina is still going on.”
Chaloupka said Mayor Ray Nagin’s reelection in early May was not surprising because of the voters’ familiarity with Nagin and a lack of viable alternatives. The future of New Orleans, however, may not be so clear-cut.
“There really is a lot of uncertainty about New Orleans,” Chaloupka said. “People who live there are hoping for a good outcome, but if one’s to look at it realistically, I don’t think it’s possible to predict what New Orleans will look like 10 or 20 years down the road.
“The future of New Orleans is still in play.”
Long encourages CSU students to write a congressperson and get involved to make a difference at a national level.
Student Leadership and Civic Engagement (SLCE) is offering students a more hands-on way of getting involved through an alternative winter break trip to Louisiana in January.
SLCE, which wanted a “tangible” way to help the people of New Orleans, plans for 10 to 20 students who will be gutting homes and cleaning debris.
“There is still a need for help down there,” said Jen Johnson, assistant director of SLCE. “It was a huge disaster, and it’s going to take a long time for things to get back to where they need to be.”
Due to volunteering and people like those in SLCE, FEMA reports more than 99 million cubic yards of debris has been cleaned up, paying out $3.7 billion, as of August 18.
Seeing past the destruction and conflict, Long views his new home as perhaps the most unique city in the nation, with a lot still to offer.
“It’s a beautiful place, and it’s full of beautiful people,” he said. “The tragedy didn’t stop it from being beautiful.”
Features managing editor Amanda Schank contributed to this story.
Staff writer Margaret Canty can be reached at email@example.com.