Law School Community Welcomes Katrina Evacuees
Messages from Virginia Law Alumni in Katrina-Ravaged Areas
Editor's Note: On September 12th, the Law School Alumni Association & Foundation sent an e-mail to our alumni in the Gulf Coast region. We received a number of touching responses and with their permission, have reprinted excerpts below.
To Our UVA Law Alumni in Katrina-Ravaged Areas:
With our sincerest best wishes,
David H. Ibbeken '71
Thanks. Stone Pigman temporary office is in Baton Rouge:
Personally o.k. House o.k. Cars o.k. Office up and running. Hope to be back in N.O. asap!!
Hirschel Abbott '71
Thank you very much for your prayers. God is good, and He is our refuge and our strength. My family and all my Northrop Grumman and Navy Reserve personnel survived with all their family members. Many of my employees lost homes, cars, and all their possessions. Our home was spared the water (23 feet in a 22-foot storm surge) and took very little wind damage. We are blessed to be a blessing, and there are lots of opportunities down here right now!
At Northrop Grumman Ship Systems, we were able to pay all of our employees for two weeks, and then call them back to work-first to rebuild "America's Shipyard" and then to resume work on the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard vessels under design and construction here. Our shipyard in New Orleans sustained less damage than the one here in Mississippi, but we're having a harder time getting our workforce back there, since so many homes have been destroyed. Many of our employees (including some of our New Orleans lawyers), have had to move with their families to Baton Rouge for the time being.
Many thanks for your note, and for the efforts of all the alumni who are supporting the relief and rebuilding effort down here. Please let them know of our deep appreciation for the outpouring of support to the folks down here who will be rebuilding their homes, their lives and their livelihoods for a long time to come.
Bob Vander Lugt '91
Thank you so much for your kind thoughts. Although Katrina has been horrible for so many I am very lucky ... we believe our home is intact and did not flood. I am, however, an "evacuee," along with my husband and two children, ages 12 and 14. We are in Birmingham, Alabama where we headed when departing New Orleans on August 28th, at the time thinking we'd be gone for 48 hours. Although we came here for what we thought would be a brief stay with friends, it has proven to be a happy choice now that we will be here for a few months. My firm, Baker Donelson, has an office here which has welcomed me and I am trying to work a bit. Our friends here are wonderful and the schools have embraced the children.
I hope all our other friends in New Orleans are well.
Mimi Williams Koch '83
My Beloved Law School,
Thank you for your kind and compassionate concern. We have been through an ordeal, but are well, and we believe our home is also. My family relocated to Houston for an indefinite period, and I am practicing in my firm's office there. My contact information is:
Clyde H. Jacob III '75
I look forward to visiting Charlottesville as soon as things settle down after Katrina and will be certain to stop by the Law School.
Best always, Clyde
Thank you very much for your thoughtful message. All is well with my family and me in Jackson. Following the storm, we had many guests from the south Mississippi area but all of them have returned home. Our damage consisted of trees down and much clutter in the street and yard, but no one injured. People from all parts of this wonderful country have been so very generous to the people of my state; thanks a million.
David A. Chandler LL.M. '04
Thanks so much for your concern. My family and I personally fared well (in the Jackson, MS area we had very high winds and rain and the worst we had to deal with was power outages and long gas lines for about a week). My law firm's Gulfport and New Orleans offices, however, are having to temporarily relocate and unfortunately, we had several lawyers and staff members who lost everything; but most importantly, they are all alive. Again, thanks for your note.
Alveno Castilla '85
Thanks to everyone who has been so kind to inquire about us. Mark (Law '84) and I are safe and sound. We were without power for 6 days and still don't have phone service at home, but that's nothing to complain about. Our wonderful neighborhood is still full of trees, just a lot of them on the ground and across streets, but we were again very fortunate that our home was unharmed. More frustrating in the days following the storm were gasoline shortages which prevented many of us from tending to our own clean-up wishes; however, that problem has now gone away. Here at my firm, we are helping coast and New Orleans-based clients get relocated to Jackson, sending our nurse analysts who want to volunteer out to clinics, staffing the FEMA phone lines for those who need legal assistance, taking up collections for underwear and baby items that are needed at the shelters and going to the coast for a day at a time of clean up at the remains of Coast Episcopal School where one of our former partners is now the priest/headmaster. On the occasional moment for reflection, it's good to know that we attorneys are trained to help people solve their problems. This is a bigger problem than we have ever faced before and we will need the serious analysis of everyone in the UVA community in the days to come to help us meet a lot of human needs. Be good to those who are with you in Charlottesville who are from Mississippi and Louisiana and keep all of us in your prayers.
Rebecca Wiggs '85
When Hurricane Katrina shifted towards New Orleans the Saturday before it made landfall, Tulane Law School second-year Ben Winburn called local friends to see what they were doing. They were leaving town.
"We were kind of caught off guard," Winburn explained. Last year Hurricane Ivan had headed toward the Crescent City and veered towards Mobile, AL, instead. It didn't even rain. "That was part of the problem. I don't think they realized the severity of the situation."
Winburn's family beach house had been destroyed by the wrath of Hurricane Hugo near Charleston, however, so he was taking no chances. That morning he left for a friend's home in Covington, north of Lake Pontchartrain. The next day he evacuated Covington, flying out of the Baton Rouge airport. "Your options increase the further you get away from any kind of destruction," said the 29-year-old Arlington, VA, native and Vanderbilt graduate. "All I lost were my possessions and a little bit of my sanity. My entire evacuation was with people who lost their houses, their pets, their families-everything; I mean everything."
When he got home he started calling schools in the area, and talked to Law School Associate Dean for Admissions Susan Palmer on Wednesday, August 31. "The madness was just starting to begin down in New Orleans," he said. "It seemed like UVA was prepared to take us all in if possible."
The Law School opened its doors to Winburn and 11 other second- and third-year students from Tulane and Loyola of New Orleans law schools. The visiting students attended orientation Sunday, and began classes Monday, September 5, thanks to the efforts of the entire Law School community.
Palmer, who fielded calls from students scattered across the country in various states of evacuation, said the school received close to 100 inquiries from displaced law students and their families, but preference was given to third-years and Virginia residents.
"Your first instinct is to help everyone you can," Palmer said. "I don't think any of us realized how many inquiries we would get." Tulane asked law schools who were accepting students to focus their efforts on upperclassmen.
Second-year Tulane law student Porter Nolan's family lived blocks from his school, and left town one day before Katrina hit when the forecast looked grim.
"This was the first time my family ever evacuated for a hurricane," he said, and his family roots in the town go back for generations. Nolan's family relocated to Asheville, NC, while his stepfather stayed behind to publish the New Orleans Times-Picayune from Baton Rouge. "It was a Herculean effort to get a paper edition out a few days later," Nolan said.
Nolan attended high school at Woodberry Forest in Orange, VA, and worked in Washington, DC, after graduating from UVA in 2001, so he is familiar with the area. For now, he's sleeping on a friend's sofa until he finds an apartment.
"This school's been incredible with the speed with which they move, and how well they've been able to accommodate us," he said.
The Law School has enrolled the visiting students in courses corresponding as closely as possible to those they signed up for at their home schools, and faculty are helping them catch up on work missed prior to their arrival. Textbook publishers provided their books free of charge, and the Law School provided loaner laptops for those who did not escape with their computers. The students have access to career counseling services and were able to request interviews from employers who recruited on-grounds. The Financial Aid office is available to counsel them as well.
"Everyone's been very helpful. Students have been quick to hand me notes from classes I've missed," Winburn said. "I've been able to focus on catching up with school, as opposed to worrying about logistics that are, for me, secondary."
Several peer advisors have been working with the visiting students to meet their needs, including temporary and long-term housing and social events to introduce them to the community. Student Bar Association President Hill Hardman said his e-mail to students requesting hosts for the visitors received 200 responses offering aid of some kind. Some visitors have found homes with Law students or relatives, some current students have offered extra bedrooms they have in their home at no charge.
"Student support has been fantastic," Hardman said. "Everybody wants to know what they can do to help."
Third-year Tulane student Alyssa Carducci made the last flight out of New Orleans. A self-described "military brat" whose family lives in Atlanta, Carducci had friends across the country and managed to book a flight to Chicago, where she found a flight to Richmond-a short drive from her boyfriend, second-year Anthony Esposito. Carducci left her car at the airport, and lived out of two small suitcases she brought with her. She called several law schools after Tulane's dean allowed third years to look for alternate education. With plans to work at Troutman Sanders in Atlanta after graduation, completing her third year was critical.
"UVA was by far the most organized, and the first to respond and let us know what to expect. They were just on top of the game," she said. Carducci was impressed that three deans attended the evacuated students' orientation, and with the Courts & Commerce bookstore staff, who came in to help distribute textbooks on the weekend. "I can't emphasize enough how wonderful UVA has been," Carducci said. "People have come up to me after class offering help and giving me their phone numbers. It's just been overwhelming."
The SBA's public service committee coordinated fund-raising efforts as well, including donations of everything from furniture and appliances for the visitors to clothing and food drives for Katrina victims still in the Gulf region, and at press time had raised roughly $7,800 from student and faculty donations.
The Law Christian Fellowship and St. Thomas More Society also spearheaded an early fund-raising effort in the days following the disaster, gathering more than $3,700 for the Red Cross to go toward hurricane relief.
"Almost the minute we set up the table, people started walking up and opening their hearts and their wallets to us," said St. Thomas More officer Eric Grant.
"The Law School student body has been extremely generous in offering accommodations, clothing, notes from missed classes, and general hospitality," said Assistant Dean for Student Affairs Martha Ballenger '69. "Helping these students has afforded us all a way of doing something constructive and tangible to improve the situation for at least a few of the victims of this disaster."
"I feel really bad for people down there. I feel bad for people who've lost their homes and families," Winburn said.
Meanwhile, Nolan hopes to return to his hometown soon. "I'm definitely looking forward to getting back and trying to get the city back on its feet. In the meantime, I'm feeling pretty lucky to be up here."