Rita One Year Later: International Students

September 21, 2006

Reported by Britney Glaser

Going through a hurricane evacuation and then coming back to a devastated area is hard enough for residents that are familiar with this type of natural disaster.  But, there are hundreds of temporary residents in Lake Charles that have never dealt with a hurricane, and some that did not even know that they were moving to a hurricane-prone area.

Last year's mandatory evacuations from Hurricane Rita presented a unique scenario for close to 300 students at McNeese State University.  Guru Varma, a grad student from India says, "I guess we knew that it was coming, but it was difficult for me to get out of here because it was just a month since I got here. I didn't have a driver's license or a car, not did I have any relatives staying closeby where I could go...so basically, I was just stuck here."

International students at McNeese were catapulted into a very unexpected predicament last September when they were sent an e-mail by administration regarding hurricane evacuation.  Preble Girard with the International Student Affairs office says, "That e-mail gave students information on how to prepare for an evacuation, it told them what to take with them. It gave them links to the local media."

Marvin Williams, an electrical engineering junior from Jamaica says, "We weren't so much informed before like this was a hurricane zone to that extent.  Not for myself, but a lot of the other students, and not having that experience before, I think a lot of students were wondering 'what will happen to me and will I lose my things' because they saw what happened in Katrina."  Varma added, "We deal with cyclones in India, but they're much smaller than hurricanes.  We never really have to evacuate for cyclones, so I've really never encountered a hurricane before."

McNeese staff stepped in and quickly made arrangements for the international students that had no means of getting out of town.  35 international students were taken to Natchitoches where they were housed for one month at a local Methodist church.

Even though the evacuation of these students turned out fine in the end, the university now plans to better inform students about the threat of natural disasters.  Dean of Student Services, Toby Osburn says, "We have to encourage and educate our students, international or domestic that they are and that they have to be their own best advocate in a crisis situation. They need to anticipate the kinds of hazards they could encounter and they need to have a plan."  The university also plans to have updated pages on the www.mcneese.edu website in future emergency situations.

Both Varma and Williams said that although going through Rita was a tough experience, they had the opportunity of developing friendships that span the globe.