Hurricane Katrina Evacuee Settles In To Classes at VGCC’s South Campus
Kristie Smith lost her home and all her possessions to Hurricane Katrina, but she didn’t lose sight of her goal of getting her associate’s degree and making a better life for herself and her family.
Thanks to the help of Vance-Granville Community College, her dream is alive and well.
Kristie has a frightening tale to tell. When Hurricane Katrina hit her hometown of Slidell, La., just northeast of New Orleans, she and her two children, William, 16, and Savanna, 4, went to the home of her mother, who refused to leave. Her sister and her two children were there, also.
The flooding waters of Lake Ponchartrain rushed into the house and when it reached knee-depth, Kristie and her family knew they had to get out. Her daughter has a swimsuit with floaties in it, so Kristie put it on Savanna so she could stay afloat. She said trees were down and roads were washed out so they could not leave the area. Her father, who had died in June, had a steel container that is carried on an 18-wheeler in the yard for storage, and the whole family went into it to ride out the storm.
“The container was shaking, and I didn’t think we were going to make it,” Kristie said. “We prayed a lot.”
After the hurricane passed, the waters were so high the family could not get out. Someone in a passing boat heard them calling for help, and the family was rescued by boat.
“There were no telephone communications in or out of Slidell so we could not inform anyone that we were safe,” Kristie said. Her brother, Michael Smith, who lives in southern Granville County near Wake Forest, drove to Slidell, found his family and brought them out of the hurricane-devastated area. Her mother and son were dropped off in Atlanta with other family, and Kristie, Savanna, Kristie’s sister and two children returned to North Carolina with her brother.
“I had my personal papers like birth certificates and my school records in a box and took them when we left my house,” Kristie said. She was in the computer systems specialist course at Louisiana Technical College, and she knew she needed to get back into school.
Her sister-in-law took Kristie to Vance-Granville Community College’s South Campus near Creedmoor, the closest community college to their home, on Sept. 8. Kristie had no money, but Cecilia Wheeler, the South Campus director, and the staff there assured her they would take care of her tuition and expenses, and she was enrolled in Information Systems, English and sociology classes the next day. The North Carolina Community College System has since waived tuition costs for evacuees who were enrolled in community colleges before Hurricane Katrina hit their homes.
“The people at Vance-Granville have been great to me,” Kristie said. “In addition to taking care of my college expenses and books, they even bought me clothes to wear to school.”
Fall Semester classes began at Vance-Granville on Aug. 18 so Kristie was behind. “Everyone at South Campus helped me catch up in my classes and made me feel comfortable here,” she said.
Judy Patton, Kristie’s Information Systems instructor, said that Kristie has caught up with her studies and is “doing great.”
Kristie Smith said she is not going back to Louisiana. Her house there has a tree in it, was totally flooded and is covered throughout with mold. Nothing in the house was salvageable.
“I have been through several hurricanes but nothing like Katrina,” she said. “I don’t ever want to go through anything like that again.”
Kristie plans to earn her Associate in Applied Science degree in Information Systems from Vance-Granville and find a job in the computer field. “I particularly like programming and problem solving,” she said.
Savanna is enrolled in pre-kindergarten at Mt. Energy Elementary School in Creedmoor, and her son, William, will join the family soon and enroll at South Granville High School.
“I just thank God we’re alive,” said the newest student at VGCC South Campus. “North Carolina is very beautiful, the people here have been so nice to us, and I plan to stay here.”