Eighteen months ago, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. It has been estimated that recovery efforts will take close to 15 years to restore it to its pre-hurricane state. This spring I, along with 10 other UCSB students, traveled to hurricane-ravaged areas in Mississippi and Louisiana to aid relief efforts. What we observed during our time can be described as nothing less than shocking. It was once described to me in an analogy that continues to bring tears to my eyes, forcing me to relive what I saw.
Imagine reconstructing your entire house in a shoebox. You place all the items you cherish into the box including baby pictures, furniture, home movies, paintings, religious emblems, and even the food from your pantry. Now fill that shoebox all the way to the brim with water and place the top back on the box. Now shake it. This is the devastation that many people returned to after Hurricane Katrina hit, affecting an area close to the size of the United Kingdom. What if you lost everything close to you?
Areas in Mississippi and Alabama continue to recover from the wind and water damage caused by the hurricane that in some areas generated waves as high as 24 feet onto coastal towns. We learned that Louisiana – more specifically New Orleans and its surrounding parishes – suffered from a very different, manmade devastation. As a result of purposeful cuts in funding and levee systems that were insufficiently built by the Louisiana government and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the city of New Orleans was hit with the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. Many areas that needed trenches up to 70 feet deep to sufficiently hold back water were sometimes built as shallow as 17 feet deep. Judge John Sanborn, the neighbor of a home that our group worked on, revealed the horror of his return to his home in Chalmette, Louisiana.
By way of boat, Sanborn pulled up to his second story balcony – close to 15 feet off the ground – and found it completely under water. There are many of those stories, hundreds of thousands in fact. Sadly, many of those people will never return to the places they once called home. Due to lack of funding, people cannot wait for the 15 years to be over before they piece back together their lives that were so tragically dismantled. They cannot afford to rebuild because of timely insurance hassles or a lack of evidence to support specific damage claims. Even funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which are supposed to be available in times of federal emergency, are not readily available to most of the victims.
I urge you not to ignore the mistakes that have been made, stand up for those words that so powerfully open our Constitution to “provide domestic tranquility” and “promote the general welfare” for ours and future generations. Join UCSB’s own Katrina Relief Group, write to your congressional representatives, write to President Bush, and get involved now, because if we, as the able-bodied and educated youth of America, do not act, who will?