Student Investigates Katrina Disaster

Scholar Eli Hardin ’18 Gains Experience in Analyzing Primary Resources    

Hurricane Katrina battered the gulf coast in August 2005, and according to the National Weather Service, flooded 80 percent of the city of New Orleans and killed nearly 2,000 people in Louisiana and Mississippi. The response to the storm has been studied by many scholars, but a review of New Orleans’ evacuation procedures hasn’t received much attention. Eli Hardin of Boiling Springs, N.C., a senior at Gardner-Webb University, decided to focus his summer undergraduate research on the factors that led up to thousands of New Orleans’ residents being stranded after the storm.   

A political science major with a minor in biblical studies, Hardin studied primary documents from the mayor’s office in New Orleans, including correspondence with federal officials. “One key source I used was the transcript of the mayor’s testimony to the U.S. Senate,” Hardin noted. “I also relied on the New Orleans local newspaper, ‘The Times-Picayune,’ to give insight to the information that was being received by locals as the event unfolded. I also relied on studies conducted by other researchers on evacuation behaviors and the psychology of those in the path of a storm. I also relied heavily on the U.S. House of Representatives investigation and report on Hurricane Katrina.”   

Hardin was one of 10 GWU students who conducted research during the summer term with a grant from the Undergraduate Research Scholars Program. The students worked 40 hours a week for five weeks on their projects, which they are required to present in a professional forum. Each one had a faculty mentor or collaborator who worked with them. Hardin’s mentor was Dr. Joseph Moore, GWU assistant professor of history and chair of the Department of Social Sciences.  

After studying the documents, Hardin believes New Orleans officials made costly mistakes before the storm. “It was not surprising that the city was not fully evacuated because everyone witnessed that on TV,” he explained. “What was surprising was the realization that most of those who remained did not have to, had the city acted differently leading up to the storm.”   

Hardin plans to present his work at multiple honors conferences, as well as Gardner-Webb’s Life of the Scholar Multidisciplinary Conference in the spring. He is also looking into his options to have it published.  

“Gardner-Webb, as all great universities should be, is here for the students,” Hardin declared, “and this program proves that.”

Learn more about opportunities for academic enrichment at Gardner-Webb.