Katrina’s lasting impact shocks college volunteer

Marlboro native worked in New Orleans during recent school break

BY REBECCA MORTON Staff Writer

MARLBORO — Rather than spending her recent winter break from college sleeping late and lounging around her hometown of Marlboro, Lindsay Diamond, 19, decided to spend a week in New Orleans, La., restoring homes that were destroyed when Hurricane Katrina hit that city in August 2005.

Diamond, a 2007 graduate of Colts Neck High School, learned about the program through her campus Hillel organization at the University of Rhode Island. In October, Diamond made her decision and applied to be one of 10 students from the URI campus who would be selected to spend a week in New Orleans. She was eventually tapped to make the trip to Louisiana.

In reflecting on the trip, Diamond said that when she arrived in the south on Jan. 4, the state that New Orleans was in was not what she had expected.

“I was kind of shocked. I thought that after three years there would be more completed,” Diamond said.

She described the area as being desolate and still run down.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Internet Web site, Hurricane Katrina was the most destructive and costly natural disaster in United States history. When Katrina, a Category 3 hurricane with sustained winds of 125 mph, made landfall, the powerful storm surge breeched local levees and caused flooding in much of the region. In the aftermath of the hurricane, nearly 275,000 Gulf Coast residents were forced to live in group shelters.

Diamond spent her time in the Broadmoor section of New Orleans working with the St. Bernard Project and Rebuilding Together New Orleans. She said the Broadmoor area was hit hard during the storm and noted that many homes were unable to be restored.

Diamond, who is a sophomore at URI, said that three years later only about 50 percent of the area’s residents have returned.

With the assistance of about 100 college student volunteers from across the country, Diamond’s group helped restore the exterior of a woman’s home. She said the interior of the house had been fully restored, but the woman had run out of money to complete the exterior.

Diamond said she was a little nervous about the work she would be doing since she has no construction experience. The uplifting attitude of the volunteers combined with a quick lesson on how to complete their task made Diamond’s hesitation disappear.

As the week went by the volunteers came close to completely finishing the home. Diamond said that only the roof remained to be restored and explained that the next group of volunteers, who were scheduled to arrive during the week of Jan. 11, would complete the task.

The volunteers not only worked on that particular home, they received a tour of the area. Diamond said they were brought to the sites were the levees were breached in order to gain a complete understanding of how the devastation occurred. The group was also treated to a tour of the French Quarter, where Diamond said they were able to sample authentic Cajun cuisine.

One of the most memorable and moving sights for Diamond was to see the congregants of two different temples working together. She explained that the group visited the remains of an Orthodox Jewish temple which was destroyed by Katrina. The congregants from the Orthodox Jewish house of worship have since come together with the members of a Reformed Jewish synagogue and that is something rarely seen, Diamond explained.

Throughout her time in the deep south, Diamond said, she met many people who were in New Orleans during Katrina. She said many people chose not to evacuate the city because they had seen hurricanes come and go over the years with little impact. By the time they realized how colossal Katrina was, it was too late. The people with whom she spoke told Diamond they survived the hurricane’s onslaught by sitting on the roof of their home waiting for help.

Diamond described the trip as a lifechanging experience and said the spirit of the residents was inspirational.

“It was amazing to see their reaction, even though we were only there for a week the people were very appreciative,” she said.

Diamond, who plans to return to the area again next year, said everyone who can help others should do so in some way.

Contact Rebecca Morton at marlboro@gmnews.com