Thursday, April 20, 2006

start on paper

It is as if we are in a third world country, or a ghost town, with desolate streets and dilapidated buildings. I feel around for my glasses and quickly put them on. I can’t believe what I see when I peer out of the lightly tinted bus windows. I feel like we have been traveling for days not hours. There are rows among rows of cars covered in a white residue on the sides of the main roads. Road signs fallen or non-existent; buildings reduced to roofs held up by wooden beams. I looked to my professors for input but they simply tell me the worst is yet to come. My mind begins to race, filling with questions in anticipation of what the next two weeks has in store for me and the other student volunteers from Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia as we embark on a journey to help rebuild New Orleans.

On August 28th 2005 the entire Gulf Coast was struck by Hurricane Katrina. The category 5 hurricane caused total devastation in many parts of New Orleans, especially to the Lower Ninth Ward which was hardest hit. The residents who used to call this two mile stretch of land their home are still waiting for answers eight months later. The Lower Ninth Ward is located in the southeast part of the city. Its residents were predominately lower class African Americans but the neighborhood was rich in culture and history, “a remarkable human community woven together by a network rich in family history, social connections, and proximity to relatives and friends” (Gratz). The community has what “many Americans wish they were a part of,” the residents realize the “importance of a close-knit community where everyone works together” (Frank).

Katrina has devastated this community and it is quite possible that it will never be built as it once was. The accurate death toll has yet to be determined at this day. Many Americans see race as playing a role in both their response to Katrina and now in the reconstruction efforts. A rather controversial issue concerning the Lower Ninth Ward is whether the neighborhood should be rebuilt for its residents or whether it should be turned into the natural wetlands that existed before the development of the Ninth Ward to protect the rest of the city from future Hurricanes.

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