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Carol Polsgrove
IU School of Journalism

George Vlahakis
IU Media Relations

Last modified: Monday, December 5, 2005

IU journalism class returns with stories about Katrina that will last a lifetime

IU student Amanda Robert surveys the wreckage of Waveland, Miss., a town nearly destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. She and eight other students joined professor Carol Polsgrove on a trip to gather untold stories from the Gulf region. Photo by Suzannah Evans.

Print-Quality Photo

EDITORS: Hurricane Katrina recovery stories and photographs by Indiana University School of Journalism students also are being distributed today and are available for one-time use in newspapers and at media Web sites without charge. Photographs for these stories, along with a general file of other pictures, are available at The students retain their copyright to the stories and photos. All of the stories can be found at links listed at the bottom of this article.

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University journalism student Sarah Core recently met a family camped out on a beautiful lake in southern Mississippi, but it definitely was not there for pleasure.

The family's home in St. Bernard Parish had been flooded when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, and its members were living in a trailer near Wiggins, Miss. Core met the family as a member of an IU graduate journalism class that was in the area to report on the recovery from the natural disaster. A couple of days later the family showed her its ruined St. Bernard Parish house.

"In St. Bernard Parish just outside of New Orleans, we drove past house after house that was still covered in dried mud and swamp grasses, with overturned cars leaning against them and broken pieces of a nice, normal middle class life spread out in the front lawn," Core recalled. "We got lost in the maze of deserted lives, and that's when the realization sinks in.

"This isn't just a few houses by the beach or a small neighborhood right by the canal. This is your house, your best friend's house, your professor's house and your worst enemy's house. This hurricane destroyed entire families, entire cities, and left rotting timber and mud-soaked memories in its path."

All nine graduate students on the newsgathering trip with their professor have returned with experiences and stories that will affect them for many years.

Photo by Ashley P. Wilkerson

Print-Quality Photo

"It's hard to describe just how complete the devastation is, even if you've read 100 news stories and seen the scenes on TV," student Suzannah Evans, 24, wrote in a blog about her experiences. "Maybe this is patronizing of me, but it just doesn't look like America. It looks like some war-torn, poverty-riddled Third World country."

Sarah Core, 22, from Washington, Pa.," added, "I still can't get over the sheer amount of destruction that occurred in the Gulf Coast (area). It's one thing to view it on your TV screen, where the comfort of a glass plate and a camera safely separates you from the devastation, but when you are there it's overwhelming."

Despite considerable classroom preparation and other experiences, Amanda Robert, 21, of Georgetown, Ind., said she "honestly" was not prepared for what I witnessed there. "I've been lucky all of my life, so I did not fully understand what it would be like to not have a home or food or a comfortable lifestyle," she said.

The students were in the region Nov. 9-14 to report on conditions in southern Mississippi and New Orleans and to write articles for a classroom project. Articles and photos are being made available to newspapers across Indiana and in hurricane-affected regions.

Evans, who is from Indianapolis, produced a blog about their experiences, which can be linked to from the journalism school's home page at

"This was the most intense experience I've ever had as a teacher," said Carol Polsgrove, IU professor of journalism. "The students did a wonderful job finding their way around a part of the country where most of them had never been. So many lives have been disrupted over such a large region. I think these stories and pictures communicate that."

"I believe this hurricane project offers a perfect combination of classroom teaching and a once-in-a-lifetime reporting trip, which is a model for experiential learning in the School of Journalism," added Brad Hamm, the school's dean. "More importantly, these journalism students are contributing to our knowledge about current conditions and challenges for Katrina survivors. We don't want to lose our focus as a community and a nation on their recovery."

Moving around the region in small teams, students worked on a wide variety of stories on damage and recovery efforts in communities along the Mississippi coast and New Orleans.

They interviewed church volunteers helping rebuild people's houses and a reticent FEMA official. They visited a counter-culture clinic. They talked to a priest whose ornate church was heavily damaged and African American leaders worried about how their community will be involved in rebuilding Mississippi. They talked to volunteers helping residents of the Gulf Coast rebuild their lives.

They took photos of Hispanic laborers brought in to clean up New Orleans, coastal ruins pillaged by souvenir seeking tourists and houses torn apart by rushing water.

Evans tracked down what had happened to archives throughout the region.

"I interviewed four women with the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. For three hours, they poured forth about sifting through the wreckage for soaked books and documents in libraries on the Gulf. They kept calling it their therapy," Evans said. "It was the first time they'd sat back and talked about it. They couldn't have been more helpful and accommodating. With the exception of FEMA people, helpfulness and accommodation was a way of life for all the Southerners we met."

Other students who made the trip were Koran Addo, 25, Washington, D.C.; Daniel Comiskey, 29, Bloomington; Rich Powell, 29, Milwaukee; Elisha Sauers, 22, Knoxville, Tenn.; Ashley Wilkerson, 23, La Plata, Md.; and Laura Williams, 22, Greenfield, Ind.

"I'm thankful that I got the opportunity to go down and cover this disaster, namely because I know I learned so much more about how to report in the field than I ever would have in the classroom," Core said. "Everyone I met was willing to speak to me, and they thanked me numerous times for telling their story."

Katrina packet stories:

African Americans work to preserve their culture in the storm-damaged region

Archivists go to great lengths to rescue damaged documents

Other churches open their doors to parishioners from St. Michael's, damaged by the storm

Their Chalmette home in shambles, the Ohler family wearies of camping out

FEMA lacks trailers, communication for evacuees

Volunteers rebuild houses, give massages

Doing the dirty work: Hispanic laborers clean up after Katrina

Sightseers taking home more than memories from Waveland

In the midst of ruins, the Rainbow Family creates community