MSU Feels Katrina’s Wrath

Bronson Pettitt (MSU Reporter)

The devastation of Hurricane Katrina may be hard to grasp for Minnesotans, but a handful know it all too well.

At least 10 Minnesota State students and faculty are from Mississippi and Louisiana ? states hit hardest by Katrina, likely the worst natural disaster in United States? history.

Baton Rouge Swells

Michael Wilson, an MSU health science graduate, spent three-and-a-half hours on the phone with his mother the night before Katrina hit, speculating about the devastation and what was happening in Baton Rouge ? his hometown of 15 years.

The city, which had more than 227,000 people before Katrina hit, will likely swell as evacuees move throughout the state.

?The situation in Baton Rouge is, from what I understand, strained, because the city simply does not have vast resources required for dealing with such a large influx of people,? Wilson said in an e-mail, adding that public hospitals there suffer from budget cuts, schools are already overcrowded and under-funded, the traffic situation is chaotic and stores are running out of supplies.

Family Splits

Fortunately, for Wilson, his family from New Orleans has been accounted for. One of his uncles lost his house but was able to relocate to Chicago. Other family members relocated to Dallas and Baton Rouge ? some permanently.

Not everyone knows where their family is, however.

Michelle Carter, a native of Baton Rouge and New Orleans and director of the McNair Scholars Program since Aug. 2004, said that, as of Wednesday afternoon, she hasn?t heard from her brother, an uncle, an aunt and some cousins.

?We don?t have bad news ? just no news,? Carter said.

A few days after Katrina hit, Wilson?s mother filed a missing person?s report for her brother ? but he was later accounted for.

Carter, who drove to Mississippi to pick up two of her husband?s children, ages 4 and 13, said worrying about when relatives will call is futile.

?You just have to let it go,? she said.

Calvin Moultrie, program coordinator of Student Leadership Development and Service Learning, has in-laws unaccounted for as well, but much of his and his wife?s family has relocated to Baton Rouge and Morgan City, La.

Sharla Breaux, a rehabilitation counseling graduate, lost her house in New Orleans from flooding. Her uncle tried to ride out the hurricane, but the National Guard had to rescue him.

Speedy Admission

One student from a New Orleans suburb ? Fay Usuf ? received instantaneous acceptance to MSU.

Usuf, a speech communications graduate, planned on attending MSU next semester if her application was accepted. But after Katrina wiped out the city and Usuf relocated to Houston, a friend of hers told her to try to gain acceptance early.

The speedy admission, Usuf said, ?has been perfect.? Usuf contacted MSU Wednesday morning after the hurricane struck and was accepted later that day. By Monday she was in Mankato with the bare necessities ? flip-flops, some clothes and some toiletries. She began classes Tuesday.

?All of my professors have been welcoming and very helpful,? she said. She also said Michael Fagin, dean of institutional diversity, Kathryn Cady, director of graduate studies and Daniel Cronn-Mills, chair of the speech communications department, have been instrumental in her transition.

Usuf will receive assistantship this semester, has found an apartment and received spending money.

?It was amazing what we?ve done in a few days. I?ve never seen it before,? said Cronn-Mills, referring to Usuf?s quick admission.

Minnesota State Colleges and Universities is also working out details to give tuition aid to displaced students.

Media Coverage

Some MSU students and faculty have opted out on paying close attention to coverage of Katrina damage.

?Watching the news kind of makes my heart ache,? said Moultrie, who lived in New Orleans until 1999 when he moved to Minnesota

?It?s hard to actually watch it on TV,? said Breaux. ?It hurts. It seems like a third-world country. That is the hardest ? loosing friends and seeing the looting.?

?The looting,? said Moultrie, ?has been blown way out of proportion.?

Wilson echoed a similar opinion.

?The looting got out of control because the city law enforcement was strained trying to rescue people from rooftops and attics,? he said. ?When people are desperate, they will do anything.?

Looting for food and supplies, added Moultrie, ?Is survival in its most basic form.?

Usuf agreed. ?At first [the media] reacted negatively when they were showing the looters. They kept showing the same pictures over and over again. Then they spoke up so things could change.?

Carter was surprised when, driving back to Minnesota after picking up her husband?s children, she heard people on the radio from multiple states complaining that evacuees would steal jobs.

What?s Next?

Some MSU students who have families from New Orleans don?t know what they will do now ? permanently reside in their displaced locations or move back to New Orleans.

?Just imagine if someone told you you could never go back home,? said Usuf, who lived in Slidell, La., which is an hour?s commute from New Orleans.

?New Orleans represented a significant portion of my cultural heritage, which a lot of other Louisianans hold dearly,? added Wilson. ?When you live in a city like New Orleans it consumes you entirely. The city and its nuances become an integral part of who you are, so the realization that something could actually happen doesn?t set in until the damage has taken its toll.?

Bronson Pettitt is the Reporter News Editor