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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Feeling less helpless...UVA's response to Hurricane Katrina

All day long, I kept MS-NBC streaming at work, listening to what was happening down on the Gulf Coast. Just a few months ago, I was scurrying around NOLA with my friends during JazzFest, looking for a distant relative's art in French Quarter galleries, and letting my crisp, formal French get sanded and smoothed by its looser, tropical cousin. It was probably one of the best trips I've made in the last few years and I was certain that I'd be returning to NOLA each year for JazzFest.

Well, now I'm listening to the reporters saying that the Hyatt has no windows, that tourists are holed up in the Sheraton and the Ritz, that the Superdome is in horrible shape. Friends from the area are slowly checking in via text messages because for some reason, cell phones aren't working, but text messaging is. A friend who works as a DJ at a radio station in Baton Rouge has been on the air for 18 hours, comforting callers and also broadcasting pleas for help. When one local hospital was dangerously low on formula, she announced this on the air and Baton Rouge residents, who weren't affected as badly as those near the water, arrived with supplies within an hour.

Being so far away while watching this [sometimes] live footage and hearing these calls for help, the feeling of helplessness is overwhelming. Of course my first reaction was to send money to one of the relief agencies, but while that made many of us feel better after the tsunami, that didn't make me feel like I had made an immediate impact. By the end of the day, that changed.

At 5 PM, our Dean gathered all of us who were around and said that we were going to help in the way we were best suited to: giving NOLA students a temporary home.

Tomorrow morning, we'll start taking names of Virginians who were supposed to be starting school at Loyola, Tulane, Xavier and other NOLA schools. They'll be welcome at UVA until their schools reopen. We have housing, open spots in plenty of classes, and a campus full of people ready to welcome them.

It doesn't fix the massive, gaping wound down in New Orleans, but it feels so good to be doing something at this point.