Students Spend Their Weekend Helping Evacuees

From Aggie Hotline

Published: Monday, September 5, 2005

While Texas A&M University hurricane relief efforts this weekend focused on housing evacuees in Reed Arena, another group of students were in San Antonio this weekend shuttling evacuees from planes landing at Kelly Air Force Base to shelters in and around the city.

A caravan of 10 buses complete with 23 student drivers, four managers and four University Police Department representatives left for San Antonio Friday morning just after midnight as soon as they received coordinating approval from Gov. Rick Perry's office.

"When we left at midnight, we didn't really know what we would be doing but we knew we wanted to help. We had no idea what to expect," said Cash Donaho, a senior aerospace engineering student from Victoria who drove one of the shuttle buses.

A second wave of Texas A&M buses was dispatched to San Antonio Saturday. The buses are normally used for shuttling students across the university's large campus and to and from apartment complexes throughout portions of the Bryan-College Station community that surrounds the campus.

FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) officials coordinated the evacuation of 25,000 people from New Orleans to San Antonio.

"It was something to tell your grandkids about" was the way John Walter described the experience of seeing and helping the evacuees.

He said most of the evacuees he met were upbeat by the time they got on his bus.

Amy Hahn, a senior English major, described her sadness in seeing the evacuees: "They had nothing. It (interacting with them) helped me understand what went on in New Orleans."

Michael Kruppa, a sophomore agricultural development major, offered perhaps the most telling depiction of the evacuees' plight, recalling how one of them recalled "how happy he was to finally see a Port-a-potty." Kruppa said he would "definitely do it again, if asked," referring to his stint helping the evacuees.

"We were in awe by what was happening, but our students did a wonderful job and I'm very proud of all of them for the job they did," said Lynn Wiggs, a manager with Transportation Services. Wiggs said the first shelter filled up fast and two more shelters had to be opened. One of the alternate shelters was in a mall that had been closed.

"We saw people wearing surgical gear (scrubs) because they had been wearing contaminated clothes and had to be given other clothing. Some had been plucked off a rooftop by a helicopter and dropped off at an airport and put on a plane. They had to ask us 'where are we' because they had no idea," Donaho said.

Another student driver, Shane Banner, a senior finance major at Texas A&M from Pearland, said he felt like he needed to do more to help. When the second group of 10 additional buses and 20 drivers arrived at 5 p.m. Saturday (Sept. 3), Banner said many of the original drivers wanted to stay. "We were tired and had no sleep, but none of us wanted to leave."

Banner, who also is a volunteer firefighter, said he and some of the others plan to go to Reed Arena and see if more help is needed there. Reed Arena is one of four shelters open in the area and it currently houses 208 survivors who arrived Sunday in buses from Dallas and Houston.

Back at Reed Arena, several hundred members of Texas A&M's Corps of Cadets were much in evidence-doing everything from getting beds in place to making a makeshift chapel-but they were far from the being the only students volunteering their services.

Members of the Aggie Dance Team were there-not dancing but passing out supplies to the evacuees.

Student Body President Jim Carlson was there meeting with Lt. Gen. John Van Alstyne, commandant of the Corps and Cadets who was asked to lead the overall Reed Arena effort. They discussed ways that other groups could help throughout the week in a variety of endeavors that included providing entertainment for the children among the evacuees.

Likewise, a representative from the Memorial Student Center was on hand to offer additional assistance and explore possibilities for helping in a variety of ways. Even as they were meeting, students were accepting donations across campus at G. Rollie White Coliseum during the MSC open house, a previously scheduled back-to-school event but which took on a Katrina relief dimension.