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Katrina impact in Chennai

Meera Srinivasan

New Orleans student couldn't reach her parents for a week



Naomi Chalew. — Photo: Shaju John

CHENNAI: Hurricane Katrina's psychological effect can blow across the globe. A student from New Orleans who is now in Chennai had a harrowing week before she could get across to her parents.

"The scariest thing in my life!" This is how Naomi Chalew describes the week that traumatised her. She came to India in August on an exchange programme to study disaster management in South Asia in the wake of last year's tsunami.

Naomi, who visited Nagapattinam to collect information, could hardly imagine that a hurricane of Katrina's magnitude would tear apart her hometown.

Naomi's parents were not reachable for over a week when Katrina hit their town. "When I needed to be home, I was away. Every time I tried calling my parents' cell phones I'd get a message saying, `Due to the hurricanes, this number is not reachable.' It was terrible," she said.

After a week, Naomi was able to reach her grandparents on their cell phone. That's how she found out that her parents and siblings were safe. "Though people here were extremely sympathetic, they obviously couldn't comprehend what was going on there. I was relieved only after I got to speak to my parents," says Naomi.

Relief operations were evidently insufficient; private institutions acted quickly though, she said. Though it is difficult to point the finger at anyone, she feels the public anger with the U.S. federal Government is justified. Her parents managed to evacuate to Baltimore. Her father, a paediatrician and endocrinologist, had to shift his hospital too. "We don't know if our home's still there. My dad's hoping to go back and see."

"It was remarkable to see the country come together. Everyone did their bit. Though there were a few instances of miscommunication, the media did its best. They'd say, `You're from New Orleans, 15 % off your coffee,'" she laughs.

Naomi is planning to go home in January. "I'll hopefully get to see my home. I'll have a lot of cleaning up to do!"

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