UTA Magazine
Stranded student rescued

He expected gumbo and jambalaya, but he got lukewarm lunch meat and cheese. UT Arlington information systems senior Neer Patel spent six days in a New Orleans hotel before and after Hurricane Katrina struck the city. After the storm, food service digressed progressively from savory steak and seafood to cold cereal and bottled water.

Neer Patel “I didn’t know when I would get out,” he said. “The restlessness was terrible.”

Patel had traveled to New Orleans with co-workers for a convention. He was hoping for fun in the Crescent City as well as cutting-edge education on information systems. Instead, he faced desperation. He fought the uneasiness by using his laptop as a communication center for those stranded in the downtown Fairmont hotel.

“The hotel didn’t have electricity, but it did have backup generators,” he said. “Hotel employees allowed us to plug in and use our laptops to make phone calls to relatives through the Internet.”

While he waited to be rescued, Patel kept busy by helping others. The night before the hurricane hit, he filled his bathtub with water. When the storm knocked out water and sewage services, he had a water supply. Many hotel guests weren’t as far-sighted, so he and another co-worker, who also had filled his tub, decided to bunk together and give an unprepared family one of the rooms with a water supply.

Patel saw people working together to make crisis conditions bearable. A hotel bellboy left to find medical help. He waded through waist-high water to “procure” a canoe from a sporting goods store, then used it to find Army Reserve medical personnel to assist a dialysis patient and a diabetic needing medication.

Patel’s ordeal ended when the Fairmont Corp. sent in Navy SEALS and Dallas SWAT personnel. The team took the hotel guests to a Baton Rouge church, then a convention center in Lafayette before depositing them in Dallas.

Patel’s emotions held firm until he returned home. He didn’t expect a convention trip to provide life lessons.

“There are a lot of good people out there,” he said. “I learned that we need to start helping each other more if we are to survive.”

— Kim Pewitt-Jones

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