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Grad students leave class behind for storm recovery work

November 14, 2012 2:00 PM

Carol Schlueter

They could have been in class today (Nov. 14) on the Tulane uptown campus. Instead, graduate students Geoff Grimes and Andrew Snyder were near storm-ravaged Staten Island, N.Y., in a Red Cross truck bringing hot meals to storm victims and first responders.

Volunteers Geoff Grimes, left, and Andrew Snyder pause outside their Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicle as they head along the storm-damaged New Jersey coast to assist to hard-hit communities. (Photo by David Crowell)

“People are always coming to help us in New Orleans, so it’s our pleasure to help them,” says Snyder, reached by mobile phone in their red-and-white “ERV” (Emergency Response Vehicle), deep within Hurricane Sandy’s disaster zone.

He and Grimes were sitting in class on Halloween morning when the call came. Volunteer members of the Disaster Action Team for the Red Cross in New Orleans and trained for the mission, within hours the two students were driving in their ERV to help the northeastern states recover. Typically the team works a two-week stint.

They are enrolled in the master’s degree program in disaster resilience leadership studies through the Disaster Resilience Leadership Academy, part of the Tulane School of Social Work.

“Earlier we had blankets and clean-up kits” in the ERV, Snyder says. “We were in Newark, N.J., on a ‘search & serve’ mission, in areas with heavy damage and no contact. We found several blocks that had been without power over a week. They were happy to see people there and have warm meals and whatever supplies we had. The blankets went quickly.”

Grimes describes seeing areas closest to the New Jersey shore “completely destroyed” after Sandy came ashore Oct. 29, while Newark and Hoboken, for example, “just got tons and tons of flooding — four, six, eight feet.”

He is heartened by the enormous recovery response by churches, relief agencies, the government and the storm-hit communities themselves. “People are really helping each other out. It’s a beautiful thing … through this crisis you see these neighborhoods come together.”

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