Santa Clara University

On Rebuilding

By Patrick Semansky, SCU senior English major from San Mateo. Semansky is applying for long-term volunteer opportunities in New Orleans through Tulane University and through Habitat for Humanity. “I’m hoping to spend the next year or two down there helping in some way with the hurricane relief effort,” he says.

When I returned from New Orleans, I was asked many times if I thought New Orleanians should be allowed to rebuild in their city’s low-lying areas. To those of you, like me, who choose to live between the San Andreas and Hayward faults I ask; What will you do after the “Big One,” the Bay Area’s Katrina, finally arrives? Take your chances and rebuild, knowing that this Big One will not be the last? Or start over on stable ground in Iowa because someone indifferent to our region’s beauty and eccentricities tells you that rebuilding is not worth the risk? Personally, I would stay. I also support those who desire to stay and rebuild their New Orleans despite the daunting possibility of further catastrophe.

In a country of Wal-Marts and housing developments, we need to preserve the distinctiveness of New Orleans. Living in an equally distinct region that will one day be a stage for Anderson Cooper as he reports to the outside about aftershocks and liquefaction and our denial that the Big One was for real, who am I to judge?

Photo Gallery

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Alex Goldberg


In the nearly deserted New Orleans neighborhood of Gentilly, SCU student Alex Goldberg watches a Red Cross Disaster Relief truck pass by. The front door of the home, like countless others throughout the city, was spray painted with an “X” by rescuers searching for bodies.

Student in New Orleans


With electricity out in most of the city, volunteers worked with the available natural light. Here SCU student Bridget Murphy removes floor tiles.

Students in New Orleans


Three feet of water flooded this house after levees broke. SCU students James Servino (foreground) and Sarah Attwood pull up soggy floor tiles.

Michael Colyer with students


On the steps of an abandoned house, Michael Colyer, assistant director of SCU’s Ignatian Center, rests and eats lunch with students Katherine Fier and Ann Thomas. Because many residents had not yet returned after Katrina, it was typical for the group to rest on unoccupied adjacent properties. With so little traffic in the neighborhoods (the students were usually the only people there), the group sometimes ate lunch in a circle in the middle of the street.

New Orleans


Mold was a common sight during the clean up. In this New Orleans “shotgun house,” Alexandra Goldberg removes a piece of moldy sheetrock.

Students in New Orleans


Louisiana National Guardsmen on patrol stop to talk with SCU students Katherine Fier and Anna Thorburn. Students met with a cross section of New Orleans residents during the immersion trip, all of whom helped them form a better understanding of the situation.

Students near debris


Two Loyola New Orleans students walk past a boat sitting on sidewalk in Lakeview. The car to their left is full of mud, and a FEMA trailer is visible down the street.

Debris on street


A refrigerator waiting to be removed by a cleanup crew. Most residents had to dispose of their refrigerators because they sat without electricity for weeks and everything inside rotted.