September 5, 2005

News for MechaCon 2005 and Numa Rei-No Con 2005:

Katrina's effects on the anime community

by PatrickD

One week ago, Hurricane Katrina slammed into the gulf coast of the United States wiping out communities, causing billions of dollars in damage, and taking lives which are still being counted. Just as the hurricane was starting to hit Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, MechaCon, located halfway between Houston and New Orleans in Lafayette, Louisiana, was wrapping up.

On Sunday morning, Jon Russo, MechaCon's convention organizer, talked to the hotel manager to determine their course of action. "People had been evacuating during the course of the night and the hotel had been filled."

To keep their attendees informed, they created a "Hurricane Panel". "After only a half-hour to gather the information and the overhead graphics for the projector, we convened with the attendees from the affected area and gave them the most up-to-date comprehensive information we could regarding road closures and the storm itself." The convention pleaded with their attendees to stay at the hotel rather than braving the storm.

Reminiscent of Katsucon 9's infamous snowstorm, MechaCon continued to provide programming to give the attendees something to do and keep their minds off the impending storm. Jon instructed his staff to "keep these folks smiling, no matter what."

The dealers' room closed three hours early to allow the dealers enough time to pack up and get on the road. Most were headed to AnimeFest in Dallas the following weekend. All the guests made it out before the storm except for Alec Willows, who finally departed for Canada on Tuesday night.

"I must say that I have the greatest convention staff in the world for them being able to pull this off under such dire circumstances," says Jon. He reports that his staff made it through the storm fine. "One of our guys is actually from New Orleans and was worried about his mom, but she got out okay and is fine."

As for the attendees, Jon reports that "some of them lost everything... even family. It's truly tragic." Some of the attendees are still in Lafayette. Jon and his co-organizer have opened up one of their homes and they will likely be there for another month. "I have a sense of responsibility for these folks," says Jon, "so I intend to see this through for as long as it takes to know they are going to be okay."

Over in New Orleans is the Alario Center, home to Numa Rei-No Con. The Alario Center is located on the West Bank, an area which hasn't had as much flooding as some areas, but the condition of the Alario Center is unclear. contacted Barry Cantin, Volunteer Coordinator for Numa Rei-No Con. He hasn't heard from Odin or Hawk, the convention's organizers, because they have been busy with a non-anime project for several months, but Barry says that next year's convention will depend on how the Alario Center fared, how Odin and Hawk are doing, and many other factors which cannot be determined yet. "Fortunately we still have a lot of time, but there are so many unknowns... it's hard to tell."

Barry reports that he they will not be able to return home until October or November at the earliest. He and his wife will be moving to Alabama to stay with her father and plan to enroll their son in a middle school there.

Barry says, "As you can imagine, this has been an unbelieveable nightmare. My family and I escaped to Houston, TX - where the people have been simply wonderful. I have NEVER seen such hospitality and genuine concern; I love this city and may never leave!"

On Numa Rei-No Con's forums, those that are able to get online are sharing stories. "I'm in Fort Smith, AR looking for a new house now... since there's nothing to go back to," says one post.

Another post reads, "My mom and I made it out but my dad and brother stayed behind. We heard nothing from them for days, but thanks to the internet community they were found alive." It continues, "I don't have a home and my mom won't leave this hotel until she talks to my dad, which isnt likely to happen soon. I wonder where we will live..."

Jon from MechaCon asks people to continue to show their support for the families and individuals who have been affected by the hurricane and its aftermath. "Everyone who starts a new con wants their first con to be unforgettable. Unfortunately, the hurricane is what people will remember most from ours. Hopefully next year, we won't have something like hurricane Katrina again... that way we can show what we're made of and people will remember us on our merit... and go home happy."

Jon also wanted to offer words of hope to the Northshore Anime Club of Slidell, LA. "We'll get you guys squared away and hopefully you can all go home soon. In the meantime... relax, because you guys are in good hands with us."

MechaCon is working on putting something together to raise money for the recovery effort and updates will be posted when information is available.

Here are four groups which are helping in the area thanks to donations from around the world:

The last two links will benefit animals which are often forgotten in disasters such as this. Although you are certainly free to contribute to any charity you wish, encourages all its readers to donate what they can. If you cannot afford to donate money, consider donating your time by volunteering for a charitable organization in your area.