Katrina + 10

Our story: How Sun Herald staff lived and reported on Hurricane Katrina

One Sunday morning in late August 2005, a handful of Sun Herald copy editors and designers were cajoled back to the office early by editors hoping to get Monday’s paper out the door.

In the Gulf, Hurricane Katrina had exploded into a monster storm and there was a narrow window of time to get a paper printed and delivered and get the staff to safety.

A light rain was falling that afternoon as the last pages of the paper were sent to the pressroom and the newsroom cleared out — except for a handful people who would ride out the storm there. The rest of the staff scattered over a half-dozen Southeast states or hunkered down in homes along the Coast. It would be two weeks before many of them saw one another again.

A team of four was sent to our sister paper, the Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer, just in case Katrina knocked out the Sun Herald. They were met there by the first of dozens of Knight-Ridder employees who came to Georgia to edit stories, design pages, write headlines and proofread one another’s work. Knight-Ridder was the Sun Herald’s parent company at the time.

As the first images of the storm filled TV screens in the Columbus hotel Monday morning, it was clear the Sun Herald wouldn’t be printed in South Mississippi for some time.

On the Coast, as soon as the storm passed, reporters and photographers ventured out for a first look. Mountains of debris stood where the first three or four blocks of the Coast had been.

Members of the staff, it was evident, suffered enormous losses, but this was the story of a lifetime and they had to not only gather the news and take the photographs that would make up that historic Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2005, edition, but they also had to get their words and pictures to the team in Columbus. There was no power, no Internet, no land lines and spotty-at-best cellphone service.

Help already was on the way, however. A team from Knight-Ridder drove in from Alabama with a truckload of supplies and, best of all, some satellite phones.

Hours later, the first post-Katrina edition was on a delivery truck headed from Columbus to the Coast.

The Ledger-Enquirer shifted deadlines and desks and let us lean heavily on its staff to get the Sun Herald into the hands of readers day after day, even sacrificing coverage of high school football one Friday night.

On the Coast, the Sun Herald office was the new home of dozens of reporters, editors and photographers who’d arrived from Miami; San Jose, Calif.; Wichita, Kan.; and beyond. Camp Hope, a makeshift RV park, sprang up in the paper’s parking lot for staffers who had lost their homes, as well as for the visiting journalists.

For 13 days, the Sun Herald rolled off the Columbus press and arrived on the Coast and in the hands of the readers, some of whom gave up places in water and food lines to get the latest news.

The power would eventually come on. The Sun Herald would once again be printed in Gulfport starting with its Sept. 12, 2005, edition.

On April 18, 2006, after more than 230 editions had rolled off the presses detailing every facet of the recovery, the Sun Herald itself was in a headline — Sun Herald Wins Pulitzer: ‘Dedicated to the people of South Mississippi.’