By Amy Young
When Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast during the early hours of Aug. 29, the devastating results were nothing short of mass destruction and chaos.
Federal reports have deemed Katrina one of the ?worst catastrophes in the history of the United States.? The Category 4 storm left more than 1,000 dead and thousands homeless. Towns are still without water and electricity, and now clean-up efforts are at a standstill ? with the effects of Hurricane Rita on top of it all.
Early Saturday morning, Rita struck land at the Texas and Louisiana border with 120-mph winds, down to a Category 3 hurricane from the Category 5 status just days before.
While those affected by Rita begin to survey the damage, the nation continues to mourn the losses sustained as a result of this ?once in a lifetime storm? of Katrina. And for two BYU students, it is more than just empathy ? the road to recovery is real.
?I was supposed to fly out of New Orleans Sunday morning, but on Saturday they cancelled all flights,? said Shawna Windom, who couldn?t make it back to BYU this semester because of the Hurricane Katrina. ?Then it became too dangerous, so we decided to tough it out in the house.?
Windom, who lives in Covington, La., north of Lake Ponchartrain, said although they were given notice to evacuate two days before the storm, it wasn?t very easy to do so.
?Our town was completely out of gas,? the 22-year-old communications major said. ?Even if there was gas, a lot of people didn?t have cars or money to leave.?
On the morning of Aug. 29, Windom and her family made their way to the strongest part of the house to wait out the storm.
?It was actually light outside, but the wind was blowing really hard,? Windom said. ?Things were flying around outside ? it was really scary. We just sang Primary songs and prayed a lot.?
After the storm, Windom discovered their boathouse and boat were both destroyed, along with the chimney on their house, which was knocked down by falling trees.
She said her house was plagued with holes from trees and her trampoline looked as if someone crumbled it in his or her hands and threw it across the yard, the way you would a piece of paper.
?I have been through hurricanes before, but this was definitely the worst,? said Windom, who had to crawl three miles through downed trees to reach an uncle. ?There is still no electricity, and people are looking everywhere for food and water.?
The cleanup efforts are moving slowly ? and are now crippled by Rita and her effects.
?I want to say that it is getting progressively better, but it?s still pretty bad,? Windom said. ?My old school is gone, the library is gone ? everything is destroyed.?
Another student, Megan Garcia, whose family lives in New Orleans, said no one expected it to be this bad.
?Every hurricane season they say to prepare for the worst, but it never turns out to be this bad,? she said. ?I tried to look at the pictures to see where every thing was. I grew up in New Orleans ? I know it like the back of my hand ? but in the pictures I couldn?t tell what anything was.?
Garcia?s parents made it out before Katrina came and are now living in Baton Rouge, La. One of her brothers, an engineer, returned to the city and is now working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the clean-up process.
?Rita is just another obstacle,? Garcia said. ?The clean up in Louisiana will now have to wait.?
Before Rita, New Orleans residents hoped to have electricity and full phone service by the beginning of October, but now those dates may be pushed back.
For students like Garcia, the hardest part of the hurricane aftermath is the helplessness you feel being a thousand miles away.
?Two of my brothers are in Michigan, and I am here,? she said. ?Now we are just watching and waiting, but there is so much that you feel you need to do.?
Garcia said her house is still standing, but without a garage door, and it now has a few feet of water inside. Like Windom?s house, there is still no electricity, and phone reception is hit-and-miss.
?The thing is, you can get out of the way of the hurricane and destruction, but you can?t stop it,? Garcia said.