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Hurricane victims return to schools across the nation

Nov. 30, 2005

Associated Press
Students began returning Monday to Benjamin Franklin Elementary school in New Orleans. Many college students also are facing transitions to new universities.

Months after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, some Louisiana students are still being tossed about.

"I love being at Baylor," New Orleans junior and former Xavier University student Juliet Tran said. "Unfortunately, I cannot stay."

Many students are in similar situations, Tran said. They want to stay at their new colleges, but need to return to former schools to finish degrees.

Tran has made herself at home at Baylor, and she said the transition has gone well for her. In the months she's been here, she's gotten involved in the Vietnamese Student Association. She's taking core classes she missed her first couple of years at Xavier. At Baylor, Tran lived with high school friends already enrolled.

"If I ever needed help, I just asked around," she said. "I just went (to Xavier) for school. Now I have all this Baylor stuff."

Baylor was Tran's first choice when she graduated high school. She went to Xavier her first two years of college to stay close to home.

Xavier President Norman C. Francis said classes will resume in January on the Xavier campus, although the ground floors of many of the buildings may need to be sealed because of the extensive water damage.

He said he expects about half of the previous student body to come back next term.

Greg Beason, a Shreveport, La., junior and network manager for Infinity Solutions, a Louisiana networking business, said he's headed for New Orleans during the Christmas holiday to help with relief efforts.

Normally Beason works from Waco, but he drove home through the after effects of hurricane Rita to help put his business back together.

Thousands of Baton Rouge evacuees drove through Shreveport to Texas, Beason said.

"It was crazy," he said. "Target was robbed three times in a day, and there was an armed robbery in the hospital."

Valerie Willis, an administrative assistant at Seventh and James Baptist Church, said Baylor students rose to the occasion to help with the recovery.

"Students were very, very gracious and so responsive," Willis said. Students signed up in four- hour shifts in advance in preparation for Rita.

Willis said about 1,000 Baylor and community volunteers worked at the shelter at Seventh and James.

Volunteers served donated food, served as floor monitors, ran errands, helped with schoolwork and talked to families.

St. Louis, Mo., junior Kathryn Cook helped at the Seventh and James shelter. She ended up taking in Georgya Ferguson, a San Francisco, Calif., junior who's lived in New Orleans for the last six years. After three years at Xavier, Ferguson had gone to class for only four days at Our Lady of Holy Cross when Katrina hit.

"Georgya's a blessing," Cook said. They share a one-person bedroom.

After evacuating, Ferguson registered for classes at Baylor and planned to drive back and forth from Dallas. Her tuition for the semester was waived, and she got a parking decal. She said she gave up the plan after less than a week of commuting daily.

She went to Robinson Tower to drop her classes.

"The people at the desk were talking to me when I was crying, telling me to calm down," Ferguson said. Cook had called and left a message for Ferguson less than five minutes before, she said.

"And the rest is history," she said.

Ferguson applied for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assistance months ago, but just received her first check recently.

She said FEMA funding could have provided her with a travel trailer to live in, but only in a larger city than Waco.

Two weeks ago Ferguson was able to drive through most of New Orleans.

"It was an eerie feeling, imagining how it was (during Katrina)," Ferguson said.

She said the effects of the hurricanes were still visible. Many roofs had holes from axes from when people inside were rescued, she said.

"You see the dirt line from the water touching the roofs," she said. Spray-painted numbers on every house displayed the number of bodies found there after Katrina. More numbers to the right marked dead pets found in each home.

She said the paint on her mother's house said, "clear." She didn't go in.

Ferguson's apartment still isn't livable because the hurricanes tore off a wall.

FEMA Affairs Spokesperson Opal Jackson said FEMA funds are still available to help Louisiana residents affected by the hurricane.

"We could look at paying (students') rent up to 18 months," she said. "And we can replace personal property up to a certain amount."

Jackson said that FEMA aid is important because it covers items insurance can't. She said students should apply even if they aren't sure yet what insurance will cover.

For students, FEMA can help replace vehicles, assist with housing and replace personal property, Jackson said.

Beason said FEMA representatives have contacted many Shreveport businesses, asking for donations.

"They also asked us about our network status and availability," Beason said. In times of crisis, even computer networking personnel are important to the relief effort, he said. Maintaining communications equipment helps bring everything back to normal.

"I think those people who were just there for work are gone," Beason said. "I think it'll be different. I don't know if it'll be good or bad. But New Orleans will be back."