Hurricane Katrina (part 1)

Hurricane Katrina (part 1)
Photographing where they eye of Katrina made landfall, in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.

This blog post contains photos I took while Megan and I were on the Mississippi Gulf Coast September 3-8, 2005, to help relatives who had lost their homes to Hurricane Katrina. Our return trip two weeks later is covered in Hurricane Katrina (part 2).

I wrote many long blog posts about these experiences at the time, but when I migrated my blog posts to this site ( I decided to cut down the text and focus mainly on the photos, with minimal explanation. I was just a witness to Katrina, and it's not my story to tell.

That said, there's one aspect of our experience there that really sticks in my memory: the way the news coverage in the days after Katrina was so focused on New Orleans. It's hard to explain what that felt like. We were sitting there in Gulfport, eager for information, listening to a battery powered transistor radio as our lifeline to the outside world, and even though the eye of the hurricane, the highest winds, and the highest storm surge all hit the Gulf Coast, the news reports were all about what was going on in New Orleans, 80 miles away.

Here's something I wrote in a post from Gulfport while we were there, which sums up that feeling:

We never saw a single incident of looting, or even a person behaving in a selfish or anti-social manner. Everyone we saw was treating others with respect, and that includes the relief workers as well as the victims. Even the police and military personnel who told us "no" so many times (when we were trying to get into restricted areas) did so with respect and a sense of humor. There had been some looting in this area before the law enforcement and military people arrived in large numbers, and we saw many signs that were intended to intimidate potential looters. But apparently most of the assholes in this part of the world are concentrated over in New Orleans.

Saturday 9/3/2005

Flying from Seattle to Atlanta four days after Katrina hit, the plane was nearly empty -- just us and a few first responders.

We flew from Spokane to Seattle and then on to Atlanta on Saturday, where we met up with Marsha and Jamal. The rental car companies made us sign a rider agreeing that we wouldn't drive the cars to the Gulf Coast, and we lied on the forms then went to an all-night WalMart to stock up on supplies.

The next morning we were on the road before dawn, heading south to Gulfport, where Granny, Gloria, Gloria's dog Oreo, and Marsha's dog Tippy were staying after evacuating their homes before Katrina hit.

Sunday 9/4/2005

Arriving at Melba's house in Gulfport, which would be our home base for the next week. Marsha rolling around on the floor with her beloved dog Tippy (whom she had been separated from since evacuating a week earlier), Jamal hugging Granny, and Megan watching.
These signs and flags along Railroad Street in Long Beach were an image that appeared often in news coverage.

Arriving at Marsha's house was confusing. The fence and stairs looked familiar, but where was the house itself? As we eventually figured out, the storm surge had piled five different house up on Marsha's lot, and what was left of her house was in the midst of that massive pile of debris.

NOAA satellite image of Marsha's street on 9/9/2005

I found the above NOAA satellite image online. The image only extends to the middle of Marsha's house, but it shows how the other houses down her side of the street were all washed onto her property by the storm surge.

The red square is where Marsha's house stood before Katrina, and the red X is where it came to rest after the hurricane. Marsha's house, the three houses to the left, and the house to the right were all one massive debris pile when the water subsided.

Uncle Buster's van, which we found right where he had been living in it before evacuation. It was probably underwater until the storm surge subsided, but it never moved.
Megan, Marsha, and Linda hanging out with Buster at his van, two weeks before Katrina.

Granny's house was still on her lot, and more or less in one piece, but had moved and rotated 90 degrees clockwise - the front door was now on the left. The green spray-paint symbols on Granny's house and her neighbor's car are an international standard for marking structures during large-scale search and rescue operations after disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes. These two signs say that first responders from Ohio went in on 9/3, and found no survivors or victims. The number in the bottom quadrant is the number of victims found, and they put a line through the number if they're deceased.

Monday 9/5/2005

The storm surge moved this house up Henderson Avenue and it crashed into a Shell station at North Street. The police station downtown had been destroyed, so they used this location for a makeshift police and aid station after the hurricane.
Top: Granny's living room after the storm surge. Bottom: a photo from Granny's birthday party two weeks earlier. You can see the same mirror and stuffed toy hanging from the chandelier in both photos.
Megan, Marsha, and Jamal back at Melba's after a long day.

Tuesday 9/6/2005

That dog had apparently been living in a den of sorts for the last few days. I tried to give her a Triscuit, but she wouldn't come near me so I threw it to her. She grabbed it and ran inside her den, where she quickly buried it. I left the rest of the box for her, and reported her location to the rescue workers up at North and Henderson, who said they'd have the animal rescue crew go pick her up.

They worked late and got the job done that night, ending our power outage. They were from Georgia, and I talked to them about their experience.

These guys were among the hundreds of power workers who had been called in from surrounding states to help restore power to the 200,000 Mississippi residents who were without power after Katrina. They were sleeping in a big tent camp over at Ocean Springs, and standard work hours for all of them those first few days were 6AM to 10PM. I photographed dozens of power workers, and never saw anyone standing around or screwing off - the ones that weren't working hard were usually exhausted and asleep, laying in their vehicles or on the ground.

Wednesday 9/7/2005

Melba in her kitchen with the lights and refrigerator running for the first time in nine days.

The Waveland and Bay St. Louis area was where the eye of the hurricane came ashore, and the storm surge was so deep that it completely covered Gloria's single story apartment. You could tell that the water surged through more violently than over in Pass Christian at Granny's house, because everything was smashed up, with broken glass everywhere.

After the storm surge receded, Gloria's wet ceilings and insulation had collapsed on top of everything. It took a long time to dig through the mess, and it was hot, humid, and smelly inside, so we smashed out the windows to get some fresh air.

The first two photos above show Gloria's bedroom before and after two hours of clearing soggy insulation and other debris. We eventually recovered a box of jewelry, and Gloria sorted out the items she wanted to keep.

Two of Gloria's neighbors, Colette and Gerry Vierling, died in the apartment on the right.

When the wind subsided as the eye of the hurricane passed through, the woman in the beige shirt above made it to the building behind her (next door to the Goodwill where Gloria worked) with her husband and brother. Although this spot is nearly a mile from the shore, the storm surge was two feet deep when it flowed through the building, and the windows all blew out from the high winds, but they survived.

The woman in the green shirt above was searching for a friend who had been missing since the hurricane.

Thursday 9/8/2005

Saying goodbye to Gloria's dog Oreo before starting back home.
Megan checking into our hotel room in Atlanta, with one of the paintings she salvaged from Granny's house.

We returned to the Gulf Coast two weeks later to do what we could and help Gloria get a few more things from her apartment, as covered in Hurricane Katrina (part 2).