Del Sandfort’s work has led him to sacred ground – Ground Zero in New York, where he supervised a team of environmental health experts monitoring air quality at the site of the 2001 terrorist attacks.
But his work in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina was in a league of its own.
“On a scale of things, this is much worse than Ground Zero,” Sandfort said.
Members of the Fort Collins and CSU communities gathered Saturday at the Tamasag Retreat Center in Bellvue to discuss the consequences of Hurricane Katrina and the continuing difficulties facing the people of the Gulf Coast.
Sandfort from the department of environmental and radiological health sciences joined Doug Rice from the department of environmental health services, Chester Watson of the department of civil engineering, and Lori Peek from the department of sociology to speak about various aspects of the storm and its aftermath.
The event was hosted by anthropology professor Kate Browne and sponsored by the department of anthropology and the vice president for research.
Sandfort monitored the health and safety of the cleanup crews as part of the Worker Safety and Health Annex. His job was to travel through various sectors of the city (9,000 square miles) and identify potential hazards to workers.
“Originally, when we were deployed to the area it was utter chaos,” Sandfort said. “Most of the street signs were gone, but those that weren’t were all turned 90 degrees on the pole so we relied heavily on GPS navigations.”
In 24 hours, roughly 25 years worth of debris was created, Sandfort said. He said the amount of resources still being thrown at the cleanup efforts is mind-boggling.
“Over 500 million gallons of petroleum products flowed out because of the Murphy Oil Refinery spill,” he said. “That alone is six square miles of contaminated earth. You would have to dig up four feet of contaminated soil, and replace it with four feet of safe soil.”
Sandfort recalled one hazard that volunteers from outside the region were unprepared for: alligators. When one crewmember asked a local man how they were going to control the alligators, he went to his truck and pulled out a large pistol and a bottle of hot sauce.
“First we shoot them, then we eat them,” he said.
Other faculty members addressing the crowd focused on their experiences and expertise regarding Katrina.
Watson discussed how human activity like levee construction and oil and gas exploration exacerbated Katrina’s impact.
Rice, who has made 22 trips to New Orleans to investigate mold damage to hotels, hospitals and homes, talked about the damage to buildings and health concerns that have resulted due to the buildup of mold.
Peek focused on the attitudes evacuees had towards returning to New Orleans, discussing the stress placed on families who have relocated to Colorado.
Laura Williams, the Crisis Counseling Program Manager for Disaster Mental Health, talked to the crowd with David Duquette from the Aurora Mental Health Center. Williams and Duquette worked directly with evacuees who came to Colorado.
“We had evacuees in every county in the state,” Williams said.
Williams said that many programs were created to establish a new community for the evacuees, including picnics and the creation of a community center, however, evacuees were displaced into areas of Colorado vastly different from that of New Orleans.
“It’s harder on the second and third generations of the community,” Williams said. “Home will never again look like it has for generations.”
Don Goldstein lived in New Orleans for 20 years, but now calls himself a resident of Fort Collins. He evacuated two days before Katrina devastated much of the Gulf Coast. He and his son, Phil Goldstein, the associate athletics director of business operations at CSU, were in attendance to learn more about the aftermath of Katrina and the future of New Orleans.
“I don’t think you could have prepared for a thing like this,” Don Goldstein said. “What you saw on television is 1 percent of what actually happened, and when you hear about Katrina, the average person really has no conception of all of the groups involved.”
Don Goldstein’s town home rested four feet below sea level, and just 100 feet behind the 17th Street canal, which takes water from residential areas into Lake Pontchartrain. When the levee broke, water was forced down the canal in the opposite direction and nine feet of water rushed inside the first floor of Don’s home within 10 seconds.
Phil made a trip to New Orleans after Katrina to retrieve some of his father’s belongings. The furniture was displaced throughout the house; one foot of sewage covered the floor, a dead fish and movies from a nearby Blockbuster also littered the floor.
“The pictures were colorful,” Don Goldstein said.
While disasters of this magnitude are difficult to foresee, Don thinks the best way people can help themselves is to prepare for the consequences. He was fortunate enough to have flood insurance included in his coverage.
“You can’t afford not to have (flood insurance) because this is going to happen again,” he said. “The levees are the same levees.”
Both father and son are anxious to see New Orleans reestablished as an economically viable and culturally vibrant city. Phil said the retaining the culture of New Orleans is argument enough to refurbish it.
“If you’re not going to talk about the culture than what are you going to talk about? One of the best arguments for rebuilding New Orleans is how unique it is in a country that is so homogeneous,” Phil Goldstein said.
While Don is happy to be a resident of Fort Collins, he said New Orleans needs to be restored and hopes that others in the community, like his daughter, decide to rebuild.
“You just can’t do without New Orleans,” he said. “If you know the history, you understand. People don’t want to give up.”
Staff writer Bob Shipton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.