Katrina Reconstruction Provides the Opportunity for Growth

On the afternoon of Monday, October 24, hurricane relief worker Jerome Page met with students in the Robert Ho Lecture Room to offer a first-hand account of events in the disaster-ridden Gulf region.

Page visited Colgate on a weeklong break from working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in Louisiana and Mississippi.

“At this point in time, [New Orleans] is nothing like what it was like before the hurricane,” Page said. “The destruction was so total.”

Page described his impressions of New Orleans after the hurricane.

“When I first got there I drove into the city,” Page said. “There were no lights, no people, no cars. It was frightening and surreal. You can’t imagine being in a major American city with no people and no cars. It was an interesting experience.”

Page described the work he has done with FEMA over the past month, and discussed his involvement with building sites for mobile homes on the outskirts of the city.

“People can’t claim their homes because there are no homes there,” he said. “Everything was found where it wasn’t found before; the hurricane moved everything. In most houses there’s absolutely nothing salvageable.”

Page illustrated his discussion with personal photographs taken during his time in the Gulf Cost. The pictures showed the destruction in downtown New Orleans. He described the streets downtown as covered in trash, with an “unbearable” and “overpowering” smell that was “hard to describe or imagine.”

According to Page, reports of violence in the city were accurate. Ultimately, though, he remains very optimistic about the rebuilding effort.

“The beauty of this disaster is that all types of groups [have come] to New Orleans to fix all types of problems,” he said.

An expert in social and relief work, Page has spent more than 30 years as an Urban League director in many American cities.

He spent time in the military during the Cold War, traveling to Turkey and Germany, and also worked with the Peace Corps in Venezuela. He was active in the Civil Rights Movement and has continued to work towards social change and racial equality with a number of groups throughout the country.