Never-before-published aerial images document morning after Katrina

jbates@sunherald.comAugust 28, 2010 

The never-before-published photographs on this page were captured the morning after Hurricane Katrina destroyed much of the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Now, five years later, we present them as a reminder of the destruction South Mississippi communities experienced from the storm. May they also serve as a testament to how far we’ve come since the waters receded from our coastline.

Flying over the Mississippi Gulf Coast the morning after Hurricane Katrina, nothing had prepared me for the destruction that lay 800 feet beneath me.

As Katrina’s winds blew over the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, 2005, I felt a sense of urgency to find a way to fly over and capture the storm’s destruction from above. I was riding out the storm near Bogalusa, La., and knew finding a flight was the most important thing I could do to document the wake of Katrina from my location.

All reports indicated the airport had been destroyed, but as I arrived to a field of smashed planes and their scattered parts, there was a lone upright plane and her pilot before me. His search for fuel a futile one, the pilot was dumping the last of what he had brought with him into the tanks.

With all known airports in the area shut down, the pilot warned me he couldn’t promise we would find fuel, but agreed to take me if I would operate his video camera as he checked on damage to family properties. I agreed, and we were off.

Due to low fuel, we made a single pass over Interstate 10 and down the coastline from Belle Fontaine Beach in Jackson County westward to the Lakeshore community in Hancock County and over to south Louisiana, flying over the areas flooded by the Mississippi River.

In that short flight over the Mississippi Gulf Coast, I couldn’t believe what lay before my eyes.

The massive amount of destruction and what I imagined my friends and neighbors had to have endured was almost more than I could bear.

Seeing my flooded neighborhood, my gutted church, the absence of our historic homes and beautiful beaches and thinking about the losses I knew many had suffered, it was simply unbelievable.

The collection of aerial images published today is among nearly 150 photos I captured during that flight. Most have not been published before this week.

Seeing them again has brought back vivid memories of the pain I felt while capturing them.

The images are not easy to look at, but I hope they serve a purpose in being published now, five years after Katrina changed so many of our lives forever.

I look back on the awful mess, and I remember wondering how we’d ever get it all cleaned up, but we did — a pretty remarkable feat in itself.

During that flight, I wondered how we’d ever survive, but we have. I wondered how we could possibly pick up the pieces and rebuild our communities and our lives, but we have.

We’ve done it together. We’ve done it by working together and refusing to give up.

Hurricane Katrina was an awful storm that brought misery and death to many in our communities.

Those who were lost are not forgotten, and neither are our experiences from that time.

Our strength has brought us through these first five years, and standing together will secure our future and a better tomorrow.

I look forward to reflecting on our progress in the years to come.

James Edward Bates, a staff photographer for the Sun Herald, can be reached at

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