Hurricane Katrina, One Year Later: Student Evacuee Finds a New Home in Tennessee

KNOXVILLE –- Like other area college students, Daniel Barnes’ life is a hectic blur this August.

Barnes is finishing the summer as a resident adviser at the University of Tennessee and preparing to move into the Occupational Therapy doctorate program at Belmont University.

Still, the start-of-the-semester chaos this year is nothing like what he experienced last August when he was a student at Tulane University in New Orleans.

Barnes, 21, of River Ridge, La., was one of more than 100 students who transferred to UT’s Knoxville campus in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The student evacuees included 85 undergraduates, 14 graduate students and 14 law students, according to Pam Hindle, associate registrar.

Most of the displaced students who came to UT came from Tulane and the University of New Orleans; others came from Loyola University, Delgado Community College, Xavier University, Southern University at New Orleans, Dillard University and Our Lady of Holy Cross College.

Although most left UT-Knoxville after a semester, 20 undergrads, five graduate students and two law students remained for the spring semester.

Barnes remembers how the events of August 2005 changed his life.

“Two days before Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast, I was helping freshmen move onto campus at Tulane. The administration announced that by 3 p.m. that day, all incoming students must find ways off campus and out of the city or evacuate with the school.”

Barnes packed a couple days worth of clothes for what he thought would be a short stint away from campus until the hurricane threat passed. His grandmother came to get him, and they drove 18.5 hours to his aunt’s house in Warner Robbins, Ga.

“We had to leave my father behind because he was a guard with the Orleans Parish Prison at the time. My biggest concern was my father’s safety. I didn’t think about school until three days later.”

Once the storm’s destruction was apparent and he knew Tulane would be closed for a lengthy stretch, Barnes decided he’d enroll elsewhere to keep his schooling on track.
He’d looked into the University of Texas and he emailed UT, asking if hurricane evacuees were being offered any assistance. Meanwhile, a friend’s family in San Antonio offered to help him relocate there to attend Trinity College.

“The day before I was supposed to go to San Antonio, I went for a run to clear my head. Listening to my MP3, I didn’t notice the German shepherd behind me.”
The dog bit him, leaving a serious wound, and Barnes had to go to the hospital for treatment.

“I was ordered to rest and go on antibiotics, but moreover, I was told I shouldn’t go to San Antonio where I did not have medical care.”

While he was recuperating, UT officials responded to his queries.

“I was offered full tuition, housing, food and almost everything else that I needed for the first semester.”

Having been very involved in religious activities, including Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship, Barnes called his campus pastor in New Orleans for advice. That pastor put him in contact with a UT campus pastor associated with Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship.

“Through Chi Alpha, I knew I’d found a local ‘family’ that would welcome me in,” he said.
Barnes bought a bus ticket and headed to Knoxville.

Tulane reopened in January 2006, about four months after Hurricane Katrina, but Barnes has felt so welcomed at UT and in Knoxville, that he’s decided to stay.

“Plus, UT had the courses and credits that I needed to finish my undergraduate work and join Belmont University’s Occupational Therapy Doctoral program. My plans are to obtain a doctorate in this field, then go into mission work, and hopefully, mentor young people.”

Barnes is grateful that he and his family survived Katrina and her aftermath. Still, he can’t help but feel frustrated with New Orleans’ slow recovery.

“I feel guilty trying to claim myself as a victim because the Lord provided for me so well,” he said. “It broke my heart to see what happened in New Orleans, a city that I love, but I’m confident it will come alive again.”

Contacts:
Amy Blakely, (865) 974-5034, amy.blakely@tennessee.edu