I still know what I was doing a year ago right this minute. It was the day after Katrina made landfall and I had only heard confirmation that my brother was alive. I still didn’t know if my parents were or if my uncle in New Orleans was still alive. There were wide-spread rumors and a lot of uncertainty.
Now, a year later, I sit here writing just like I did then. It was how I dealt with the fear, anger, and pain of what happened and what would happen in the days and weeks to come.
I have spent the last week watching every TV show about the storm and aside from quick clips, the stories still only refer to the New Orleans area as the main focus as if it was all that was destroyed. Now, I am truly sorry for the good people who were affected there. But I am not sorry for the city.
They are fully to blame for what happened. They were ill prepared for years, corrupt government for generations and crooked police for all of my life. They squandered and stole the money intended for levy improvement many times over and yet they want pity and hand outs. I don’t mean the citizens because they need help, but the government and the politicians want hand outs and billions of dollars in recovery.
Recovery of what? I truly believe they have no intention of rebuilding the flooded areas of New Orleans East and the 9th Ward. They are going to collect the pay checks to rebuild and six years from now the same debris piles will be in the same place there mold- filled and bug infested. One day they will probably come along and bulldoze the whole area.
Why? Because their voting demographic doesn’t live in those areas. There aren’t any million dollar homes or thousands of dollars of tourism there. They are poor, crime and drug ridden areas. The people who had worked hard to make a home there and live a better life before Katrina hit have tried to return to rebuild their homes and sometimes their entire block, by themselves never seeing a dime of Katrina fund money. With their sweat, tears and own money they are trying to make another start in an area of great uncertainty.
But enough about New Orleans, they already get enough press.
On August 29, 2005, another area was devastated by Katrina, the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The span of 27 miles across and as far from the coast as 14 miles was leveled by a storm surge that at some points was measured at 40 feet. This bulldozer of water came in and ripped apart every thing like it was made of match sticks. It carried enormous casinos inland as they pummeled every inch between where they were moored and where they landed.
Further inland the storm winds were over 130 mph and the storm even spawned dozens of tornadoes. When I visited in October of 2005, I was baffled by how some houses looked barely touched by the wind and the house next to it was in splinters. There was no logic to the scope of the damage that my mind could wrap around.
To add insult to injury, the people of the Mississippi coast were completely forgotten. There was no news coverage of Bay St. Louis or Waveland, there were no cameras in Pearlington or Long Beach. It was like no one knew they were there.
On August 29th I called Red Cross to find out anything I could about my parents and our family and friends. They directed me to one person who directed me to another and all I got was more and more frustrated. So I turned to the only thing I could do: Get the word out there about the forgotten ones.
I went to every blog and news station in the region trying to leave a message for anyone who would listen that the people in Mississippi’s small coastal towns were in distress and needed help immediately. Eventually, I was heard. My essay entitled “Katrina~My Story” was posted on over 500 websites world-wide.
I started receiving phone calls and e-mails from all over the world asking how they could get aid to the coast. Suddenly I became one of many staging contacts for not only aid direction, but finding people who were missing from the region. In one day I received over 100 emails and calls from people who wanted to see if my word of mouth train of helpers had “found Mr. X or Mrs. Y” in one of my parents neighboring towns. It was overwhelming at times, yet I kept answering the phone and the emails because it was my calling, my way to help my home town region from 700 miles away.
I was interviewed for an Ohio newspaper about the effects on me and my parents following the storm. When they asked what message I would like to get out to the people of Ohio I simply said: “don’t forget the small towns of Mississippi”. And if asked the same question today I would say the same thing “don’t forget the small towns in Mississippi.”
They don’t have anniversary coverage like New Orleans. They are still absent of the radar that is the media. Yet despite the lack of media attention, the Gulf Coast is nearly 70% rebuilt. See that is the difference between Mississippians and the rest of the world, they take their lumps, pull up their boot straps and dig in for the long haul. Through the kindness of strangers and the love of their cities, the people on the coast are rebuilding a stronger and better community.
Instead of whining about things and crying ‘oh poor me’ they got out there and started fixing things the same night Katrina hit. They are kinda like that ant that moved the rubber tree plant- small by size but grand on conviction. This is why the Mississippi coast is “further along” than New Orleans in cleaning up and recovery. All the way from the Governor to the private citizens, they love their Mississippi coast and do what ever it takes to return her to her former glory.
I have no doubt at the second anniversary of Katrina the Mississippi coast will be 100% rebuilt and stronger than ever in every way. Tourism will be back and so will the joy that comes from living in the sleepy communities that scatter the coast. The people will once again be singing and praising in the churches and on the street. The moss will begin to show itself on the old oaks again thanks to the preservation teams sent to the region. The lazy lap of the surf on the seashore will once again be cherished as a newlywed couple strolls down the beach at sunset.
Everything will feel new, yet old again as time marches on.
So as I am feeling a sense of great hope coupled with the anger of the lack of media attention on this the first anniversary of Katrina, I leave you with a video that I came across on you tube. It is a residents’ personal account of before, during and after the storm.
This is a beautiful video of Waveland before the storm. When they turned the corner to Big E’s Tackle and Sno-ball stand I started sobbing. This was a place I spent many days in front of during 12 years growing up. I have this great picture of my children with my brother children in front of it with blue and green faces from the sno-balls. In October when I returned to my home town area my cousin and I went to go find Big E’s. It took us a while because so many landmarks were gone. When we finally found it Big E’s was a pile of rubble.
This is another great video shot at the Hancock County Emergency Management site before, during and after Katrina rolled in. An old friend from eons ago as part of its filming, Mr. Mickey LaGasse.
This is a great video from New Orleans that shows what lies the city told people about what and when levies were breached.
And finally, a beautiful video filmed around Mardi Gras. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eMkPB44cGHw