Half a mile is not that far – it’s the equivalent of a walk to class for many University students. But for LSA sophomore Andrew Pridjian, half a mile meant a sea of sewage that separated him from his mother.
After spending several days at a friend’s house in uptown New Orleans, Pridjian had to return to the hospital where his mother worked and where she was instructed to stay while thousands evacuated.
Borrowing a friend’s bike, Pridjian rode through 2 feet of water that covered the city streets. When the water depths reached more than 5 feet, Pridjian was forced to swim while holding onto his bike.
Along the way, Pridjian encountered a dead body floating face-down in the toxic waste.
On Sept. 1 – after four days without electricity or running water – Pridjian was airlifted to the New Orleans airport after waiting in line at the Tulane Hospital parking lot with 1,200 people for 11 hours.
By last Wednesday, Pridjian was taking notes at his first lecture in the Chemistry Building at the University.
He is one of several former Tulane University students who were forced to relocate to the University after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans.
Unlike Pridjian, Zach Bromer, a second-year Law student now in Ann Arbor, heeded early warnings and evacuated his apartment on Saturday before the storm hit. Not expecting to be gone for that long, he took a week’s worth of clothes, a laptop computer and his golf clubs before evacuating.
“I thought I was just going home (to Georgia) for a couple days to play golf,” Bromer said.
LSA sophomore Liz Kraus, who is also originally from New Orleans, also only brought clothes that would last her a week when she evacuated. She said she would probably not be able to retrieve many of her belongings because her family’s house has about 5 feet of water in it.
Kraus said fallen trees litter her neighborhood, which also lacks electricity and running water.
To replace many of her lost possessions, Kraus said she has used the emergency aid available through the University on a case-by-case basis.
Because his apartment is in the small portion of New Orleans that was not flooded, second-year Law student Robert Brode said it is unlikely his apartment was irreparably damaged by Katrina.
However, he said he left behind irreplaceable belongings like signed posters from such bands as Metallica, Jet, Jason Mraz and the Darkness, which he acquired while working at a record label. He worried the posters could fall victim to looting.
Brode, who attended the University as an undergraduate, said he called last Thursday about transferring to the University’s Law School. After Tulane officially released students on Sept. 2, the University gave him permission to enroll.
“The University has been great, but there’s only so much they can do,” he said. “It’s been financially difficult, because I’ve had to (replace) everything, including my textbooks, clothes and things for my apartment.”
Pridjian said the University has been more than accommodating by assigning an employee to give him a tour of campus and help set him up with a meal plan, housing and an e-mail account.
Now that the displaced students are becoming acclimated, it will be an individual choice as to when they want to return to New Orleans. Some hope to transfer back if Tulane reopens next semester, while others say they wish to prolong their stay in Ann Arbor.
Kraus said she hopes to return to New Orleans as soon as next semester.
“I just want to get back to get my life back together, find all my possessions and see all of my friends again,” Kraus said.
Brode, on the other hand, said he is exhausted from constantly moving – he spent the summer in New York before returning to New Orleans.
He also worried that the psychological toll of the hurricane would be too fresh to allow him return to New Orleans as soon as next semester.
“You see on television people dying at the convention center and the Superdome, which isn’t too far away from my apartment. There are too many bad memories to return to so soon.”
Whatever the outcome, Brode is just happy to be at the University.
“I got out safe. I found a great environment to continue my legal education. I have friends here. Things could be a lot worse. It’s a lot to think about when you watch the news, but I got pretty lucky,” Brode said.