Spring Break Journal - Louisiana


Several Southern New Hampshire University students traveled to New Orleans and Pecan Island, La., in March to help residents clean up the destruction caused by Hurricane Rita. Student Shelly Petry chronicled the trip in her journal.

The group

From left to right: Kai Hua, Alana Lampert, Brienne Casey, Justin Moore, Diana Chui, Danielle LaJoie, Shelly Petry, Bruce Wollison, Carolyn Carpenter, Christine Spindler, Ashley Gahagan-Merrill, Josh Dick, and Heather McGann.  Bottom Row: Catherine Caroleo, Sarah Jacobs, Gretchen Goddard and Ashley Speicher. 

March 18 and March 19
We spent the day touring the French Quarter and were even lucky enough to see an official New Orleans parade.

A home in the Ninth Ward

In the morning, Sarah (Jacobs) took us to the Ninth Ward to have a quick look at the devastation. For many people on the trip, this was a first glimpse at what we would be encountering for the rest of the week.

As we got closer to the Ward, homes became increasingly rundown and shabby and it was evident that many had been in this condition even before Hurricane Rita.  Most of the homes were completely abandoned because they are now unlivable and the previous residents can not afford to renovate. On each of the homes, search groups had written the number of bodies found inside. Luckily, most of the homes had a zero next to the signature.


When we arrived at the United Methodist Church of Pecan Island, it was dark and the group was surprised and horrified to find a freshly killed cottonmouth snake on the front step.  I took this as an ominous sign as the church representatives, Gwen and Cheryl, warned us that when we started work in the morning we should be careful of poisonous snakes, as well as alligators.

March 20 and March 21

Diana Chui hammering bricks
Our first morning on Pecan Island, I stuck my head out of the church door to find a swamp across the road. The mosquitoes were fierce and we all lined up to spray on the DEET 100. After taking a tour of the small island, which consists of two main roads, we set of to work at a home belonging to a woman named Shannon. The home needed to be torn down to the studs so that it could be rebuilt.  Some sledge-hammered the bricks off of the home’s exterior, some cleaned debris from the yard, some gutted bathrooms, while still others ripped up the linoleum flooring. I went through the entire house and removed nails that were exposed on the studs.

The next day, half of our group went back to Shannon’s house to finish gutting both of the bathrooms and to clean up bricks that had been knocked from the house the day before. The other half of the group went to Randi’s house to do yard work and to remove fences.


March 22


The Locks

Today we ran into a problem when the person who had been supplying us with jobs did not show up. 

Gwen took this as an opportunity to take us to Pecan Island’s claim to fame: the Locks. The Locks is a place where the town’s cattle can cross the Gulf of Mexico safely.  The operator of the Locks happened to be Gwen’s brother and he gave us all a ride. It was great to see the Gulf, as well as some beautiful pelicans.

After our ride, we were able to find a job helping an older couple clean out their old shed and then clean the yard where their restaurant once stood. 

March 23

Heather McGann and I painting Sandy’s house


The group split up, one half to clean the kitchen of an elderly couple, while the other half, myself included, went to paint Sandy’s home. 

Within seven hours we were able to paint the entire house with two coats. It felt amazing to see such tremendous improvement in such a small period of time. 

That night we received a dinner invitation from another local church that was helping to coordinate volunteers. We made the 45-minute trek to a Methodist church, where we had chicken gumbo, jalapeño cornbread and pecan pie -- all dishes that I had never tried before.




March 24

Christine Spindler and Sarah Jacobs removing mud from a home

Half of the group went outside to power wash and paint the church while the other half stayed inside to organize the abundant quantities of donations. Someone had been generous enough to donate about 500 jars of grape jelly. 

During the second part of the day our group united to tackle a house that had not been touched since Hurricane Rita hit months ago. The rooms were full of thick mud and straw. The refrigerator was still there and full of putrid food. When it was finally removed it smelled horribly and was leaking a strange green liquid. Although we wanted to do more, we had only enough time to shovel the foul-smelling mud out of the rooms and remove the furniture and debris from the home. Everything was destroyed and some rooms were not even accessible. 



March 25

Today we thoroughly cleaned the church before leaving Pecan Island. Although everyone was happy to leave and get back to their own lives, it is sad to know that in the grand scope of things we only created a tiny nick in the damage created by Hurricane Rita. On the whole, though, everyone was proud of what they had accomplished.