HomeVolume Spring 2006

News and Announcements

  • Dorothy M. Skinner Scholarship Fund
  • A Personal Account of Hurricane Katrina

    Dorothy M. Skinner Scholarship Fund

    Dorothy Skinner, a long-time member of the Society for Integrative Biology and The Crustacean Society, died on February 12, 2005 from complications of Parkinson's disease. We have not only lost a prominent member of our community, but also an influential mentor and advocate for women in science. As a memorial, a fund has been established for the "Dorothy M. Skinner Scholarship". The purpose of the scholarship is to provide travel support for women Ph.D. students and/or postdoctoral fellows to present their research at annual meetings of the SICB. To make a donation, go to "Donate" link on the SICB home page.

    A Personal Account of Hurricane Katrina

    By Barney Rees, DCPB member and faculty member at the University of New Orleans

    What follows is a brief narrative of our experience with Hurricane Katrina, our subsequent displacement to Lafayette, Louisiana, and eventual return to New Orleans. The majority of the text was written in October 2005 for the fall newsletter. It was updated and amended at the end of March 2006.

    Around 3:30 am on Sunday, August 28, as Hurricane Katrina was bearing down on New Orleans, my family and I were preparing to leave when I wondered out loud whether I should stay in New Orleans and work on a couple of manuscripts while the family went to southwest Louisiana to visit family for a few days. After all, since moving to New Orleans in January of 1996, we had evacuated for Hurricanes Georges and Ivan, and these storms scarcely affected our community. Well, reason prevailed and we all got in the car and were on the interstate by 4:10 am. That night, when Katrina's winds peaked at 185 mph and her course for New Orleans hadn't deviated, the decision to evacuate turned out to the be right choice.

    The storm made landfall on Monday, August 29, just to the south and east of New Orleans, devastating lower Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. New Orleans was once again spared the brunt of the storm, or so it seemed. Later in the day, the winds shifted around to the north and all the water that had been pushed into Lake Pontchartrain over the previous several days was now piled up against the flood protection levees of the city. Although the levees facing the lake, at 17 feet above sea level, held, the levees of three canals that open onto Lake Pontchartrain were over-topped or breached. The result was extensive flooding in New Orleans and the subsequent misery and chaos, images of which have been etched in all of our minds.

    My home institution, the University of New Orleans, fared relatively well during the storm and flood. Approximately one third of the campus was flooded by waters which rose no higher than 3 feet. There was also some wind damage and minor looting. The UNO administration quickly established temporary offices at the Louisiana State University main campus in Baton Rouge. Beginning on October 10, a remarkable 7000 students (a little less than one-half of the pre-storm enrollment) were enrolled in a variety of on-line and on site courses, the latter being held at four satellite facilities around the New Orleans metropolitan area. The spring semester began on January 30, 2006 with approximately 11,500 students and projected enrollment for the fall semester is between 14,000 and 15,000 (compared with Pre-Katrina enrollment of near 17,000).

    Our home, about a mile away, but several feet lower than the campus, was not as lucky. The neighborhood is bordered on one side by the London Avenue Canal, one of the canals which broke. Our sources of information, news video, satellite images, and various websites, suggested that there was 8 to 10 feet of water into the neighborhood. This was confirmed six weeks after the storm in mid-October, when we were able to visit our home for the first time after Katrina. Although our single story brick house appeared structurally undamaged, except for a single broken window, the waterline at the eaves was a harbinger of what we were about the experience inside the house. After breaking down the water-logged front door, we looked into our previously bright home to see about one inch of standing water and mud in the dimly lit entry way. As we walked through the muck, we saw toppled furniture, books and artwork strewn about, swollen mattresses, and mold and mildew covering the walls and ceilings. We found that our china cabinet remained upright, although it was about to fall apart at the seams. We worked most of that day to unload it, bringing its contents back to Lafayette to be disinfected and cleaned. During subsequent trips, we were able to salvage about five car- and truckloads of belongings, including three tables, a rocker, an antique secretary's desk, and various items from the attic. The rest of our belongings and the house are total losses.

    Seven months after the storm, New Orleans is recovering. Parts of the city and the surrounding area have returned to business as usual and the spirit of the city is unbowed as evidenced by the activities of dedicated individuals and neighborhood groups, a rollicking Mardi Gras, and the music and food enjoyed in clubs and restaurants around town. The recovery, however, has been neither uniform nor quick. The areas of the city that were most devastated remain largely deserted, dotted with the occasional FEMA trailer with residents determined to come back. Many residents who want to return cannot because of lack of adequate housing. And all of us, those who have returned and those who remain displaced, are waiting - waiting to see the new flood elevation maps, waiting for adequate funding to restore the levee system, waiting to find out if city, state or federal government will help compensate our losses.

    On a personal level, it is not our losses, but that which we have that has so profoundly struck me. We were fortunate to get out before the storm, with our health, pets, and selected memorabilia. We had warm and welcoming places to stay in and around Lafayette, a school for the kids, and a place to "throw my books down" and plug in my computer at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. We've been the beneficiaries of a tremendous outpouring of hospitality and offers of help. I would especially like to thank all of you who have extended invitations to house students or entertain visiting scientists. For all of this, we are very, very grateful.

    Bernard B. Rees
    Associate Professor of Biological Sciences
    University of New Orleans
    October 21, 2005 (amended March 31, 2006)