As the storm waters recede in the Katrina-battered Gulf Coast, we should not forget that the disaster's effects will linger for years. The physical destruction will eventually be repaired, but the emotional turmoil caused by the storm will not soon disappear.
Katrina’s impact on school transportation in the affected areas will not be known for several weeks, but photos of hundreds of buses buried up to their hoods in flood waters do not bode well.
The state of school bus maintenance facilities is also a concern. Infrastructure damage could be as crippling as the destruction of the rolling stock itself.
The economic damage to the region will, of course, run in the billions of dollars, making it even harder for the U.S. economy to keep its hard-earned momentum. Those of us who have avoided the calamities of the past several years should assist those who weren’t as fortunate.
Please help the relief effort in any way you can. A donation to the Red Cross would be a great start. Donating buses is also a worthy offering. When more is known about the status of the areas battered by the hurricane, the school transportation industry can play a significant role in assisting our brethren.
Buses assisted evacuation
Of course, the school bus industry didn’t just sit on its hands in the days following the hurricane. Hundreds of school buses from different parts of the country were involved in the evacuation of distressed areas. I’m sure all of you watching the TV coverage saw the yellow buses picking up evacuees in New Orleans. It was a heartening sight. We all know how effective school buses are in daily transportation of schoolchildren; to see them used to ferry entire families to safety was gratifying.
Particularly inspirational was the tale of a school district in Colfax, La., that transported more than 500 evacuees from New Orleans to Dallas under extremely tough conditions, both for the drivers and their passengers. Some of the drivers had to be treated for heat exhaustion during the journey. The drivers and mechanics who participated in this relief effort asked that any reimbursement for their time be donated to local shelters and residents housing evacuees. The courage and generosity of these heroes is simply amazing.
Getting evacuees to school
Now, with hundreds of thousands of evacuees relocated to areas all over the United States, the school bus industry continues to lend a hand. Thousands of young evacuees are able to attend school because buses have been made available to meet their transportation needs. Whether they’re living with relatives or friends or in shelters, these children are continuing their education, many with the assistance of school buses.
In most cases, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will reimburse the transportation providers, but the compensation likely will not cover all the real expenses nor will it alleviate the additional stress that accompanies unexpected route changes and driver and equipment deployment. It’s hard enough to get through the first few weeks of school when everything’s going well; with the additional pressure of unexpected riders, the stress is off the scale.
Be assured, however, that few people in the school transportation community are complaining. More likely, they’re more than happy to assist these evacuees, many of whom lost everything in the hurricane.