Communications faculty on panel explore effects of Katrina

Four Elon faculty members and a displaced student from Tulane University discussed the effects of Hurricane Katrina in a Sept. 8 panel discussion. Reflecting on the storm from their respective disciplines, the faculty members talked about the conditions that led to the tremendous destruction and loss of life.

descriptionCommunications faculty member Jessica Gisclair, panel moderator, grew up as a fisherman's daughter in Lafitte, La., a village on the bayou. She says people from that area depend on income from each fishing season. "I wonder what will remain of my culture, my heritage, of my home," Gisclair said.

Biology professor Janet MacFall discussed the environmental impact of the storm, including water pollution, hazardous materials and building debris, the loss of wildlife habitat, land contamination and the continued sinking of the Mississippi delta region. She showed maps of the extensive levee system that has prevented the delta from being replenished with river silt, causing the land to slowly sink below sea level. MacFall also detailed accurate predictions of hurricane devastation that were made several years ago.

"We knew this was going to happen, and it's going to happen again," MacFall said. "It will be worse next time unless we think about this as a society and make some wise decisions. Rebuilding in a bowl doesn't make economic sense."

Economics faculty member Jim Barbour explained the essential role New Orleans plays as a port, the only viable option for moving heavy materials such as coal and grain from the central United States to market. He said New Orleans is the largest U.S. port by tonnage and the fifth largest in the world. With port facilities damaged by Katrina, Barbour says, the world will feel the effects.

"People around the world will go hungry this winter for want of grain sitting in Illinois that we can't get out," Barbour says. "This is huge."

Barbour predicted the port facilities will be moved further up the river, perhaps to Baton Rouge, where hurricanes would not be as threatening. As for rebuilding the city, Barbour said, "Putting New Orleans back doesn't make sense, and it will be attempted and it will eventually fail."

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Communications faculty member Connie Book commented on media coverage of the disaster and said the reporters, acting as first responders, provided news without full access to sources of information. "The result was pictures without analysis and events without perspective," Book says. "We needed journalism, not a 24-hour play-by-play of the misery."

Book advised students to seek out credible media sources who are well-informed on the region, and to avoid sources providing "infotainment."

"Be a savvy consumer of journalism. Turn first to the local media who know the area," Book said. "(CNN host) Nancy Grace is not a journalist."

New Elon student Kirbi Hawkins described leaving the city just ahead of the storm and then watching the destruction unfold from safety in Tennessee. "I'm blessed because I got out. But all the places I visited are under water. They're gone."

Hawkins said she is glad to be at Elon and is adjusting well.


Dan Anderson, Staff 9/8/2005



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