CULLOWHEE – “It got quiet for the first time on the whole trip.”
That was the reaction of Western Carolina University students and faculty members traveling in a van toward the Gulf Coast to help with Hurricane Katrina recovery as they began to see the damage wrought by the storm along the highway.
The eight students and two faculty members from Western’s department of health and human performance were awestruck by the damage, which was obvious even through the darkness of night, said Lance Bristol, a senior from Andrews.
The pre-fall break volunteer trip to help Katrina’s victims almost didn’t happen. After Katrina ripped through the Gulf Coast region, Bristol suggested that he and other members of the department’s physical education majors club should travel to a damaged area to help with recovery work. Club members discussed the idea at a meeting, and decided to go.
Bristol said he made a total of 97 telephone calls to various officials, trying to find a way to connect with someone who could tell the Western contingent where they should go, and what to do once they got there. All the telephone calls led nowhere, Bristol said. The group decided to cancel the trip.
But then the right contact was found – the department of health and human performance’s own Valorie Nybo, an assistant professor who has family members in Bay St. Louis, Miss. Nybo put the group in contact with a Methodist church in Bay St. Louis, and the trip was back on.
The eight students – Bristol, Jenny Burgess, Tim Burleson, Derrick Huggins, Alison McAdam, Meredith Morgan, Lauren Riggan and Rachel Taylor – along with club co-sponsors and faculty members Bob Beaudet and Dan Grube left Cullowhee on Saturday, Oct. 8, and headed to Bay St. Louis.
The group spent Sunday, Oct. 9, through Tuesday, Oct. 11, doing demolition work on damaged homes in Bay St. Louis and nearby Waveland, Miss., Beaudet said. The storm surge in those homes reached about 5 feet during the storm, and damaged carpet, tile and sheetrock have to be removed so that repairs can be made. In some cases, the group first had to clean out the “muck,” a combination of mud and sewage line overflow, Beaudet said.
The group labored for three days on six houses, camping out in the Methodist church courtyard and relying on the church to provide meals.
Beaudet said the student volunteers received permission to miss their classes on Oct. 10 and 11. The group returned to Cullowhee on Wednesday, Oct. 12, the first day of fall break.
“It was a very stressful trip – emotionally and physically,” Beaudet said. “The students needed a break after doing this.”
Bristol said he and several other students are already planning another trip over the Christmas-New Year’s break to provide more assistance to the hurricane victims in the area.