Penn students get high marks from Taylor

Published 4:22 pm Friday, January 11, 2008

About 32 people consisting of staff members and students traveled from the University of Pennsylvania to Pearlington to see what kind of aid they could provide Hurricane Katrina victims.

Students in four different schools at the University of Pennsylvania, including nursing, engineering, social work and dental, came to spend time with residents in Pearlington to experience what hurricane victims endure, two and half years later.

Project Coordinator of Penn in the Gulf School of Social Policy and Practice Feldman Institute Connie Hoe said the University has 11 other schools that would like to come to the area to see what kind of help they can offer.

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Nursing students offered health advice while social policy students offered a listening ear to stories and engineering students offered their skills to test the area’s water for potability, Hoe said.

The students are journaling their experiences during their visit and Dr. Norma Cuellar said she will look over all the information the students have gathered to come up with solutions to problems.

Students noticed that not only were people’s homes damaged in the storm but their mental well being was as well. Social Policy students, while not able to offer solutions, were able to lend a caring ear to the stress of residents losing their home.

“A lot of them got mentally beat up and been having a hard time getting over it,” Mississippi Representative Gene Taylor said.

The students arrived on Jan. 3 and will leave Sunday, the day after they put on a health fair for the residents. The health fair will be Sat. from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. at the Pearlington Recovery Center.

The health fair should address some of the health problems the nursing students noticed were being ignored as residents attempted to rebuild their homes, said Pheobe Seskaskie.

A lack of health resources, nearby places to shop and ready access to health care has only added to the mental and physical stress of Pearlington’s residents, the nursing students said.

Engineering students tested the water supply in the area and while they did find a couple of problems in their initial testing, those problems could easily be solved with a household item. Out of the first 17 tests about three tested positive for chloroform or E. choli, said Kyle Sirianno. Alex Yen said adding the right amount of Cholorx bleach to the well, depending on the size of the well, should solve that problem.

Taylor made a stop into Pearlington during the student’s visit to share his personal storm experience and plans to help all Gulf Coast residents recover. Such assistance includes an insurance bill that will require insurance companies to pay up on policies, no matter if wind or water was to blame.

After the storm most insurance companies decided to blame property damage on water, when admitting wind caused the damage would have made them pay out, Taylor said. Taylor said his own home insurance policy was deemed null and void, even though it was obvious that wind was involved. A lawsuit later lead to an out of court settlement on his claim, he said. In response he and others of a similar mindset are working to pass an insurance bill through Congress that states as long as the home is built to code and insurance premiums are paid then claims should be paid. He hopes to have that bill passed by June 30, before the next storm season, however there could be some holdups with his plan.

“It’s hard to remind people in Washington, where their lives are normal, the enormity of what happened,” Taylor said.

Taylor said he will also work to secure the funding approved before Katrina for a sewer and water system in Pearlington, build an Emergency Operations Center in the area, and work to rebuild the schools.