Take Five Scholar Katherine Shen had just finished her summer. For over two months, she had planned a trip to New Orleans in order to spend quality time with friends. Having heard so many amazing stories about Louisiana, she decided it would be worthwhile. “I thought it would be a fun trip – good seafood, crazy parties and a change of scenery,” Shen described. Little did she know, she would be one of the last to see the old New Orleans.

The afternoon she arrived, she spent the day roaming the streets of New Orleans – visiting the aquarium, the French Quarter and the famous Bourbon Street. For the weekend, she and her friends had scheduled many outings in Louisiana. “We were going to go on a swamp tour, the zoo and dancing,” she said. Things took a drastic turn before she knew it. “In a matter of 24 hours, their plans quickly changed to one thing – evacuation,” Shen said.

Initially, she attempted to switch her flight leaving for Rochester as soon as possible. With the high demand for flights leaving early to avoid being in the hurricane, her chances of catching an earlier flight quickly dwindled.

She spent the rest of Saturday preparing for the inevitable strike from Katrina. “I was stuck in the apartment alone,” Shen added. That night, while alone, she comforted herself by calling those dear to her to tell them as much information as possible.

On Sunday, she realized her nightmare was coming true. “I woke up on Sunday only to find out that the hurricane turned to a Category 5 and New Orleans was directly in Katrina’s path,” she recalled. The president of Tulane University ordered a mandatory evacuation for all students in the building, forcing her out. She boarded a bus with about 70 students and headed to Jackson, Miss. “It took us nine hours to drive about 200 miles,” she explained. “I have never seen so much traffic in my life.”

The Jackson State University gymnasium was filled with about 500 people attempting to escape. Morning arrived and word that Katrina had made landfall in New Orleans spread among the refugees. A few hours later, the wind and rain began to pick up intensity. Suddenly, the power went out and the gym quickly became humid and hot. A less-intense Katrina passed through Jackson, Miss., significantly damaging the city. The conditions worsened. “People around me got sick, several vomited and babies were crying,” Shen said. However, the atmosphere was one of togetherness. “It was amazing to see how everyone united.”

Shen recalls seeing the skies after the hurricane passed. “The air was crisp and the sky was a cloudless blue,” she described. “Looking up, it was hard to believe that the wrath of Mother Nature had passed that very spot just a fewhours before.”

Shen eventually found a flight out of Atlanta back to Rochester.

In retrospect she is still shocked at what had occured. “I couldn’t believe that just a few days before, I had been walking around in one of America’s most beloved cities. Now, the city is destroyed and will never be the same.

Although Katherine is back safely on campus, her heart is still in New Orleans. “A large part of me is still with the people down South,” she ended.

For more information on university relief efforts, go to http://www.rochester.edu/news/katrina.

Buitrago can be reached at jbuitrago@campustimes.org.

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