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Honors Scholar Describes Spring Break Cleanup Outside New Orleans

More than a year after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, the devastation remains. Honors Scholar Phillip Lane describes his experience on the cleanup during spring break.

Date: 4/9/2007
By: Dawn Fuller
Phone: (513) 556-1823
Photos By: Honors Scholars Program
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Phillip Lane
Phillip Lane

University of Cincinnati Honors Scholar Phillip Lane, a fourth-year major in operations management, took a trip over spring break that he will never forget. The 22-year-old student from Pleasant Ridge joined more than 40 fellow UC Honors Scholars to assist the National Relief Network on hurricane cleanup in Chalmette, La., just outside New Orleans. Each student paid $399 to participate in the service trip. This is his account of the trip, in his own words:

This year over spring break I took part in an honors service project in New Orleans. I was one of 42 students and three faculty members to make the 16-hour trip. Instead of going to some exotic place such as Panama City or the Dominican Republic, like my friends did, I paid money to help rebuild. And after returning, I know I made the right decision.

During our time down there, we worked three long days. My working group gutted two houses, tore down a garage and a couple of sheds, and removed a lot of debris from a total of three different houses. What surprised me most was the fact that we were still gutting houses after the 2005 floods. The completeness of the destruction is unimaginable without seeing it in person and even then, it is hard to believe the place is in the United States. There were only a handful of houses that were rebuilt and only a handful more trailers in people’s yards. The strip malls were abandoned still, and there were very few actual businesses open even now.

Honors Scholars
Honors Scholars

But the trip was more than a rebuilding effort. It was a learning experience as well. On our fourth day, instead of working we took a tour of the levies that failed and got to see the neighborhoods that we were working in from a new perspective. Our tour guide gave me a lot of insight into what actually happened and why the levies failed. She also gave us insight into the politics of New Orleans.

I watch the news a lot and thought I knew what happened and thought I knew what it was like, but literally had no idea. After our tour we got a chance to wander around New Orleans. But I have a cousin who lives in New Orleans and instead of walking the French Quarte,r my cousin drove me around and told me more about what happened in the actual city and the area he lives in. He showed me how far inland it flooded. He told me what life was like after the hurricanes.

Phillip Lane
Phillip Lane

Whereas our tour focused on the areas that received the most flooding, the places I went with my cousin showed me that the water also spread a lot further inland than I ever would have imagined, but instead of 20 feet of water it was one-to-three feet of water. The entire city was affected, not just the low-lying areas. Even deep into the city there are abandoned strip malls still.

If there is one thing I learned on my trip, it is that there is still a lot of work to be done and that anyone can help. Our group put in only three days of work and during those three days, we helped nine families and worked over a thousand man hours. Even though none of us were highly trained, together we were able to accomplish so much. If I ever get the chance to return and help out again, I am going to take it. 

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