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Bradley Hilltopics

Winter 2006 • Volume 12, Issue 1

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victims, refugees, evacuees, cases, claimants, survivors, looters, displaced, settlers, heroes, new immigrants,
corpses, unemployed, brave

Many words have been used to describe the people whose lives were uprooted as the fury of Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast. Suddenly, Americans who have seen people around the world suffering in the aftermath of a tsunami, earthquakes, and other forces of nature, realized that “others” was not a word that could be used this time.

This reality hits even closer when college roommates, sorority sisters, and classmates are among those most dramatically impacted. Several Bradley alumni were forced to evacuate their homes, while other alumni and students have been part of a massive volunteer effort to offer both financial and physical support.

Amy Wilson imageAmy Wilson ‘77, a New Orleans social worker and adjunct professor of sociology at Southeastern Louisiana University, came to Bradley‘s campus in September to give a first-person account of her experience with Hurricane Katrina. “‘Those people’ are us,” said Wilson as she pointed to a list of terms used by the media, government authorities, and others to describe the people of the Gulf Coast who escaped, endured, or succumbed to the hurricanes. “They’re you and me. We always think it’s somebody else, a disenfranchised person. But the reality is, this could be any of us.”

The brutal storm cut a wide swath through the Gulf Coast region, including New Orleans, causing death and devastation in an area famous for its festive atmosphere. A couple of signs in nature foretold the arrival of a “big” hurricane. Thirty-six hours before the hurricane hit land, the leaves on the trees had turned upside down. As Wilson drove over Lake
Ponchatrain hours before the hurricane hit, she saw ducks with their heads in the water, their bottoms up. News reports warned about walls of water with surges over 50 feet high.

“There was a genuine community effort to get out of town,” Wilson says. “When hurricane time comes, all feuds are off. There had been a feud in my neighborhood about a fence, but neighbors loaned their truck to other neighbors so they could get out of town.”

Her biggest regret is the number of people left behind in New Orleans. “For many people, it was as simple as a paycheck. They had no money to leave town. One sobering reality is if we all had taken one more person, one more pet, we wouldn’t have seen what we saw.”

Wilson remembers the hurricane as it blew through the area where she had sought refuge. “Five 100-year-old trees came down; birds were hurled through the air; the aluminum siding was flapping on the trailer I was in; shingles were blowing like Post-It Notes.”

Wilson has returned to New Orleans and currently volunteers at a free clinic on New Orleans’ west bank. “We are providing medical and holistic care to one of the poorest areas of the city that was left with no medical services when Charity Hospital was closed.”

Business gone, heroes abound

Terry Krapausky ’63 and his wife Mary decided to leave their home just outside Waveland, Mississippi, as they saw the eye of the storm narrowing in on their area. “No one ever wants to leave his home,” Krapausky says. “You never know when you’ll get to come back.”

They returned about a week later. While the house incurred some damage, all that was left of their business was two concrete slabs. “We lived on a generator, bottled water, and ice for one and a half to two weeks and finally got everything restored. We go to what we now call the ‘site,’ where our business once was, in search of things. File cabinets, desks, presses—there’s nothing; it’s all gone,” says Krapausky, who had opened a business manufacturing and installing signs about nine years ago after leaving the corporate world. He’s waiting for answers from his insurance company before deciding whether to start up the business again or retire.

Krapausky’s biggest concern is for the thousands of homeless people along the Gulf Coast. “Of the 8,000 people who live in Waveland, not one of them has a home. Over 600 eighteen-wheelers are hauling debris out of Waveland,” he said in mid-October. “The projection is they will be hauling debris for close to two years. The scale of everything is unimaginable. You really can’t communicate it. It’s beyond belief.”

He comments, “The heroes are the tens of thousands of people enduring the loss of their homes and the tens of thousands of people who have come from all over to help. Policemen, firemen, church groups, all sorts of people have come. They run soup kitchens, give out clothes and food, and help in other ways. It’s just amazing.”

Kindness outweighs adversity

The Johnson familyRalph Johnson ’86, his wife Nicole (four months pregnant at the time), and four-year-old daughter Natalie evacuated New Orleans and found a hotel in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. When the hotel was left with no water or electricity after Katrina passed through, the Johnsons decided to stay with relatives in Florida. Heading east was difficult as roads were closed due to fallen trees and power lines.

“It took us six to eight hours to get out of Mississippi. We only had enough gas to get to the border. There was no power anywhere, so gas station pumps didn’t work,” Johnson says. He pulled into a gas station in Meridian, Mississippi, because he saw someone working on the power lines. The Johnsons waited for about two hours, then noticed the worker had come down from the utility pole and disappeared. Discouraged, they decided to try to go to Alabama, but were concerned about having enough gas. “As we were leaving the gas station, we noticed the lights started to flicker. The individual had gone to the transformer to switch the power back on. We were able to pull back in and get gas.”

The family stayed in Florida for about three weeks before returning home to Harvey, a New Orleans suburb. Their home had some wind damage, but no flood damage. Johnson says that while it was heartbreaking to see such destruction in the city he has lived in, it was offset by the generosity and kindness of people everywhere they have gone. At the gas station, a man waiting to fill his gas can for his generator offered the gas he had in his container. In Florida, people at the church they attended gave clothing and other items. Current members and alumni of the Bradley chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity also gave assistance.

Johnson had begun the interview process for a position at Norfolk State University in Virginia prior to the storm and has since begun working there as associate vice president of finance. The couple has not yet sold their home, but since theirs sustained very little damage, they’re hopeful it will sell soon.

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