It wasn't the smell of feces and urine from the overflowing toilets or the 95-degree ovenlike surroundings that bothered Paul Harris the most, but the power of fear.
Harris, author of "Diary From The Dome: Reflections on Fear and Privilege During Katrina," discussed his experience of being trapped in the New Orleans Superdome during Hurricane Katrina to an audience of about 70 at Smathers Library Thursday.
Harris, now a retired staff member from the University of California at San Diego, arrived at New Orleans with tourism in mind. Instead, he was forced to seek refuge in the Superdome with about 20,000 other evacuees three days after his arrival, when Katrina hit.
He said although the refugees, most of them families, received good meals and protection from the storm, they were put in the most unsanitary conditions he'd ever seen.
He said people grew frustrated and angry after a few days without air conditioning. Some began breaking into ice machines.
"We kept hearing, 'The buses are coming! The buses are coming!'" Harris said, adding that false rumors about attacks and rapes also quickly spread among the crowd. "It was like a lie, after lie, after lie," he said.
Harris remembers the first time people felt collectively scared was when they heard a radio announcer say the waters were rising.
"Fear controlled our thoughts," he said.
If there was one thing he learned from his experience, it would be the power of fear in controlling our lives, he said.
Harris said he was depressed by the lack of progress when he visited New Orleans again not long ago. He encouraged everyone to urge local legislators to spend more money in New Orleans and to never forget what happened. Harris donates money to Common Ground Relief and other organizations that helped build houses and alleviate bad living conditions for hurricane victims.
Sharon Austin, UF associate professor of political science, brought about 60 students from her African-American politics class to the event. She said they were discussing New Orleans in class and thought it would be great to bring them.
Alicia Antone, director of development for UF Libraries and a coordinator for the event, said Harris asked if he could come to UF and talk about his experience, despite not being paid.