Small white candles brought a warm glow to the cool, damp evening last week during a vigil on the Diag for Hurricane Katrina victims.

Jessica Boullion
LSA junior Mike Levine dives into a flooded section of Palmer Field yesterday afternoon after the rain storm. (BEN SIMON/Daily)

What started with 15 people soon became 25, then 40, and then too many to count.

The vigil attendees gathered to remember Katrina victims and New Orleans.

“Home. Once I could tell you where that was,” read Elizabeth James, a sixth-generation New Orleanian and a program associate for the Center of Afroamerican studies. “The levee in my heart broke. . Where will I ever find home again?”

Some found it at the University, which admitted 65 students from schools that had been shut down for a semester, doling out more than $1 million in financial aid.

But come winter semester, financial aid was cut off. The students were required to either reapply as degree-seeking students or return to their original universities.

Some went back to their old schools. Some stayed in Michigan. Others graduated. They share one thing – each has a story.

WALKER HINES

Just over a year ago, Walker Hines was standing in the watery front yard of his uptown New Orleans home, shouting down Audobon Boulevard to neighbors held hostage by 5 feet of flooding.

Hines – who is finishing his degree at the University this year – spent the summer helping more than his neighbors.

He spent his summer in Washington working for the Cypress Group, a lobbying firm.

Through his work, Hines brought together private banks, real estate and commercial development firms to lobby the Federal Treasury for money to be used on building sustainable housing in New Orleans.

The group has raised millions of dollars for Katrina victims.

Hines’s family was not as devastated by the storm as others. Because they live in an elevated home, they only had to replace their yard, downstairs floors and cars.

Hines’s family owned the maximum flood insurance of $250,000.

“We were more fortunate than the rest of our block,” he said.

Their home served as a refugee camp for people stranded in their homes.

When the storm cleared, he and his family members shouted to their neighbors – mostly senior citizens – and they answered back with their conditions.

They described whether they had food, were sick or were terrified of water.

Hines’s uncle, who had found a small boat, would then float down and pick up those who were yelling for help.

“By the end, we had about seven to eight people staying with us,” Hines said. “Most of them were maids and housekeepers from the Lower Ninth Ward who thought they would be safer by moving to higher ground.”

Hines said the desperate group had virtually no contact with anyone until the fourth day of waiting for rescue.

That’s when his cell phone picked up a signal.

Once their location was made known through calls to friends and coworkers, they waited to be rescued.

On the fifth day, the group was discovered and rescued by an off-duty police officer with a duck whistle in a canoe.

The family did not think twice about rebuilding its uptown home. Hines said every family on his block has made the same decision.

Because his family was financially stable, even after the storm the LSA senior had the option of finishing his undergraduate years at the University.

Originally admitted as a non-degree-seeking student from Tulane University, Hines had to reapply in January for the winter 2006 semester and pick up a hefty out-of-state tuition fee.

“I love Michigan, both the University and Ann Arbor,” Hines said. “I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of living here permanently.”

But having been born and raised in New Orleans, Hines said he feels “a moral obligation to return,” despite the current conditions.

Hines said it will be interesting to see how the city rebuilds.

For the time being, though, he is thankful to be at a university that offers such “tremendous academic opportunities, friends, social life, athletics – all the things that keep your mind off what’s happening at home.”

KENNETH HUMAN

Kenneth Human sped down the emergency lane of Interstate 10 on August 28 last year, the last flight out of Louis Armstrong International Airport from New Orleans. He made the flight.

The next day, the hurricane hit. It was his birthday.

From a television set in Ann Arbor’s Courtyard Marriott, he watched as his hometown of Slidell, La., was washed away.

Today the LSA sophomore is studying sociology at the University and trying to put the past behind him.

Just last October, Human did not think returning to the University would be an option.

The hurricane had left both of his parents unable to work. It had virtually destroyed each of their homes, leaving them in debt and unable to pay for their son’s college tuition.

“My parents weren’t able to work or access their jobs,” Human said.

Any dispensable income his parents had went to rebuilding their homes.

With little financial aid and pressure from the University to keep up with tuition payments, Human’s situation was grim.

Time was running out.

Then, following an October article in The Michigan Daily chronicling Human’s plight, the manager of Student Financial Operations told him not to worry about the payments.

Human received $23,000 in disaster relief money from the University. A scholarship worth $10,000 per year was also anonymously deposited into Human’s student account by an alum.

“If it wasn’t for the University’s newfound willingness to help and that alum, I wouldn’t be here,” Human said. “My family and I are very thankful to whoever that was.”

Although Human was able to return to school, he said his family is still in dire financial straits.

“My mom is cynical and thinks that there will be another hurricane,” Human said. “She bought a new house is Charleston, South Carolina this summer. She doesn’t want to go back.”

His father decided to rebuild his home in Slidell, 20 miles north of the Big Easy.

Human spent the summer gutting the home and replacing electrical wires and plumbing.

While Human said his life has improved, he laments that the city is still in shambles.

“The damage is so pervasive, and the fact that people haven’t returned yet doesn’t help,” he said. “The city can only do so much in those areas where people have just cut their losses.”

ZACHARY BROMER

He went home to his family in Georgia days before the storm hit, but Zachary Bromer was still hit by the hurricane.

He watched on a television screen as the storm devastated his adopted home of New Orleans.

Following the hurricane, Bromer transferred from Tulane University to the University of Michigan, but remained for only one semester.

He is now staying in the same one-bedroom apartment he called home before Katrina.

“It was really strange to go back,” Bromer said. “Things had still not really returned to how they were pre-storm.”

The third-year law student left the city temporarily this summer for a job in Atlanta.

“I was a little exhausted with New Orleans,” Bromer said.

Even living uptown – which suffered less of Katrina’s terrible force – Bromer said potholes still dot the area.

“Stores and restaurants close early, traffic lights don’t work,” he said. “It just seems like there’s a lack of manpower.”

Bromer returned to the Big Easy for the first time in October to evaluate the damage to his home and retrieve some of his belongings.

“I didn’t have to deal with too much in terms of housing or replacing furniture, so financially I was OK,” Bromer said.

The only thing he had taken with him to Georgia was a backpack with some summer clothes in it.

“We evacuated the year before for Rita and nothing happened,” he said.

When the storm hit and Tulane shut down for the semester, students were on their own when finding an alternative school, Bromer said.

“We weren’t in direct communication with Tulane, and they didn’t have any way of getting in contact with us, so everyone had to call schools on their own.”

Bromer applied to schools where he knew he would have a place to stay, which brought him to Michigan, where his girlfriend was attending the University.

But after Tulane reopened, Bromer said the school discouraged other law schools from accepting former Tulane student.

“It made it fairly difficult to leave,” he said.

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