Students from other schools discuss coping with disasters

Patty Vaughan

After the devastation that hit Tuscaloosa on April 27, The University of Alabama is not alone in reviving from a natural disaster.

Universities such as Tulane, Loyola, San Diego, San Diego State and The University of California have all had to face natural disasters including fires, earthquakes and hurricanes.

Hurricane Katrina 2005 

Mike Strecker, director of public relations at Tulane University said unlike a tornado, Tulane had a little more warning for Hurricane Katrina that hit the Gulf Coast in 2005.

“Whenever a hurricane hits the coast, everyone is on full alert,” Strecker said. “As soon as it enters the Gulf, we make students aware that it’s out there and we’re monitoring it.”

Katrina hit during August when students were returning to school and new students were moving in.

Jonathan Hoffmann, a freshman at Loyola in 2005, said he started to move in the Friday before the storm hit.

“Saturday morning was when the university started recommending that we leave,” Hoffmann said. “The university was saying you should try to get out if you can.”

At Tulane, Strecker said the university told students to evacuate. Some students left with their parents during move in while the university took care of others.

“We dealt with students on campus, and we had foreign students as well who didn’t have families to go to.”

After the storm, 80 percent of Tulane’s campus was flooded, and the university was forced to close for the fall semester. Loyola followed suit, Hoffmann said.

“When we left, we were under the impression it was going to be a long weekend, where the hurricane just goes through, and just having an extra labor day,” Hoffmann said. “They called it hurrication.’ I just had the clothes I wore and my computer and that was it. It became clear that it wasn’t going to happen, because Tuesday everything broke.”

When contacting the students, Strecker said it was a challenge to find power, Internet and supplies.

“With Katrina, all forms of communication were down,” Strecker said. “We set up shop in Houston, and we were able to establish email with students once we got out of there.”

Hoffmann said Loyola started communicating with the students right away to tell them what was happening with the university.

“The music business program set up a whole proxy site for the university and hall the information they had,” Hoffmann said. “It gave the status of the school. The website was up immediately, and by spring, they were already preparing this master plan for the following year with the huge budgetary differences.”

Strecker said that more than 600 fellow universities nationwide took in students from Tulane for the fall semester.

The National Guard had taken over the Loyola campus as a base camp, so no one was allowed into the city. Hoffmann and every other Loyola student was forced to start their fall semester elsewhere.

“I went up and enrolled [at Belmont] over the weekend and slept on a floor until they set me up with a room,” Hoffmann said. “They set me up with a single room, which turned into a double because they were over enrolled, and it became a triple when I got in there. It was a little bit crowded.”

As for the following spring, the school year returned back to as much normalcy as it could for universities that were affected by the storms.

“It’s pretty incredible that 88 percent of our students returned,” Strecker said. “We did have a drop off, but it wasn’t like anything we were expecting. There was no way of really knowing who was coming back.”

Hoffmann said his class that was entering was supposed to be one of the biggest freshmen classes Loyola had ever seen with about 1,200 students. After the hurricane, his class decreased to about 600.

“They had to make huge cuts and that was one of the reasons I ended up leaving in the end,” Hoffmann said. “They were taking away a lot of the music programs, and I can’t fault them for it, because they had to do it.”

For Hoffmann, he said whenever a natural disaster hits a university, students should be reasonable and understanding.

“The university is going to have to endure a literal amount of money, and it’s not certain what they’re going to rebuild,” Hoffmann said. “They’re budget was strained to begin with, but now they have even more costs. At the same time, the university needs to make it clear to the students about what difficulties they face. It’s a university full of brilliant people teaching and studying, and if you don’t include them in resolving the process, you shot yourself in the foot.”

Fires in California in 2007

Mary McCormick, a senior at The University of San Diego, said she has to experience the university facing life-threatening fires in the fall of 2007.

“We all knew about the fires, because of the news and just word of mouth. But when the fires started to get really close one Monday morning, I remember getting a recorded phone call from the university and getting an email telling us that classes for Monday were canceled and that they would inform us later that day about Tuesday’s classes.”

McCormick said many students went home, and those who didn’t worked to help people who had been evacuated from their homes in the surring areas.

“Many families had to spend several days at Qualcomm Stadium, because their neighborhoods were in direct line of the fires. So many USD students tried to help out in fact that they couldn’t let all of us go to the stadium because it would have been counter productive. Being on campus was pretty strange while no one else was there.” USD canceled an entire week of class, and the university told professors to cut out the previous week’s worth of lesson plans.

I wasn’t on campus the whole time, but I did stay in the area,” McCormick said. “The fires were not so close to us that the university had to evacuate. Classes were canceled more for a safety precaution. Those of us who did stay were told to wear masks to protect our lungs because there was definitely smoke in the air. The university also advised all of us to stay indoors as much as we could and be ready to evacuate at any point.”

Some USD students’ famililies lost their homes, McCormick said. After students, faculty and staff returned, the university started back up and worked hard to try and support everyone who was affected by the fire by having different events, donation drives and community service opportunities.

My extended family here in San Diego lost their home in the fall of 2003 from very similar fires, and so I know first hand what it means to someone to lend a helping hand when disaster hits,” she said.

The Aftermath

It’s affected me in more ways than I understand,” Hoffmann said. “I became more motivated to be a student, and it’s really, really amazing how it affects your life in every single possible way as the years progress.”

McCormick said when something like this happens, people can’t help but come together.

“It really is unbelievable to see the countless number of good, selfless people who step up and do whatever they can to help others in need,” McCormick said. “Sometimes, all a person in pain needs is a hug and a comforting hand to hold. But, with so many able, young students at any university, I like to think that each one of us would do all we could to help those in need. Whether donating food, clothing, or furniture, or going to the location where people have been evacuated and serving food while just sitting and listening to those who need a friendly smile, any helping hand works to take one more step to recovery and bringing our community as a whole together.”

Strecker added that with any natural disaster, people are thinking and praying for Tuscaloosa.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Alabama,” Strecker said. “Whenever there is a tragedy like what we have gone through, whether it be in Tuscaloosa, Japan or Haiti, your heart just goes out to people.”