SPECIAL SERIES : Hurricane Katrina
Students Affected by Katrina Come Together
Students collaborate on what they have heard about the hurricane
September 4, 2005 3:30 PM
A Freshman and a Senior met for the first time.
Last week, they both crossed paths on SF State's campus and collaborated on what each have heard about Hurricane Katrina from different people they know in the affected areas.
Mila Gonzalzles, a 29-year-old BECA major, traveled from New Orleans the week before classes started to work on completing her degree, while Diana Wong, an 18-year-old marketing major, left her hometown of Morgan City in Louisiana three weeks ago to begin her first semester at SF State.
Five days after classes began, they both found themselves in a crisis. Katrina struck their hometowns.
Instead of beginning their first full week of classes by studying their notes and new textbooks, they began spending most of their time collecting scattered information through text messaging and the internet about the whereabouts of missing loved ones. They said they received a lot of bleak information about the current conditions in the affected areas.
"I can't believe this happened," Gonzalzles said. "There was no indication of it happening."
Gonzalzles and Wong said it would help them to share information about the hurricane's toll. They shared information they knew from friends and family who were stuck in affected areas by contacting different people who shared different insight about the disaster.
"I don't know anyone here but family," Wong said. "Friends and family there are very important to me."
Gonzalzles and Wong are both safe in their homes in the Bay Area but they said they are overwhelmed by the devastation and uncertainty left by the hurricane. There have been a lot of evacuations but the hurricanes usually have missed their areas.
"We were due for a big one, this is the biggest one ever," Wong said. "Thinking about how it's gone now is scary. It's like a nightmare and we're all waiting to wake up."
By the end of last week, they said they both found most of their missing friends and relatives but they each still know of at least one person whom they have not been able to get in contact with. Friends in the South told them that there are no words to describe the amount of destruction over there.
"People I have talked to, who are from the area, are just traumatized," Gonzalzles said. "The thought of living the way it is now, is completely unthinkable. If it was written into a manuscript, no one would have thought it was believable."
Wong said she has old pictures of the Gulf Coast. When she watches news coverage of the hurricane's toll, she said she recognizes which structures once stood where. She lived in Louisiana for over 12 years, and participated in many activities in her high school. She remembers shopping with family in New Orleans on Sundays.
"Louisiana is getting closer to becoming like a Third World country," Wong said. "Everyone is in the streets."
Gonzalzes and Wong said it was tough for them to search for friends and relatives because the storm knocked out land lines and wireless phone service throughout the Gulf Coast but they discovered a valuable tool: they could still text message people through their cell phones.
"Text message is the only way you can get in contact with people because text message doesn't require a direct hookup," Gonzalzles said. "It's the only way to get through."
Gonzalzles lived in Louisiana for 24 years and said her mother's side of family all have strong ties in Louisiana, dating hundreds of years back. She once worked on Bourbon street and she fears she might never get to go to the Jazz and Heritage Festival, Mardi Gras or to any of the Halloween parties, again. She said everything she was in contact with then, ceased to exist.
"My entire family I've ever seen growing up, is falling apart," Gonzalzles said.
Gonzalzles said she believes New Orleans may not be a functional city for a long time and the locals may begin to start new lives in new parts of the country. New Orleans is currently flooded by broken levees, according to state officials.
"It's a bizarre, alienating feeling, a disintegration of civilization itself," Gonzalzles said. "It's mind-blowing to me."
Coastal sections may not sustain permanent protection by levees and will receive repetitive destruction, according to Dr. John Monteverdi, a professor of Meteorology at SF State who studies unusual storms.
"If San Francisco was repeatedly destroyed by earthquakes, say, once every ten years, at some point one wonders whether it is wise to rebuild." Monteverdi said. "But we are dealing with people's lives, and our decisions cannot be made so cut and dry."
Since access is limited to parts of the Gulf Coast, the internet has been the most powerful tool for information for people trying to find information from the area right now said Matt Morales, a 23-year-old BECA alumnus who is from Slidell in Louisiana. He said he posted a "roll call" on his internet blog and website which asked his friends who are okay to reply.
"I have emailed every New Orleans area friend I have in my address book," Morales said. "So far, I have gotten good news. If it wasn't for the internet, I wouldn't know a thing."
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