Sun Herald employees remember Hurricane Katrina a decade after covering the storm
They’re out there, I know.
Journalists whose homes Hurricane Harvey rendered uninhabitable are covering the stories of their communities in southeast Texas today. They have tucked away personal disaster until the news slows down or reinforcements arrive.
They will take breaks later, when they are too tired to write another story, shoot another video or tweet another tweet.
I know this because I was one of those journalists 12 years ago today. I write this at about the same time of day that Hurricane Katrina’s winds quieted enough for Florida photographer Mark Wallheiser and me to head out the newsroom door and see what was left.
Nobody was trying to be a hero then and the journalists in southeast Texas are not trying to be heroes now. They are doing their jobs.
Instinct drives us. We have to find out what is happening and share it with our communities.
I picture the journalists in Texas wading through flood waters, trying to keep their notebooks, iPhones and camera equipment dry.
They are not even thinking about their flooded houses. Maybe they will think about their losses in the still of the night, when they are trying to get a few hours’ sleep before they head back out.
Mark and I did not have to wade through a flood. Katrina swept in and out. We drove over downed power lines and, once out of his vehicle, climbed over fallen oaks. We had to reach a neighborhood and so he could shoot photos before the light died.
We went to my neighborhood in Biloxi because it was blocks off the water and I knew we could get there without taking the beach highway. Mark had already been out once, during the full hurricane, and returned to inform me, “You ain’t got a city anymore.” So we knew the beach was out.
The home I shared with Margaret Baker, also a reporter at the Sun Herald, was gutted.
A neighbor hugged me. I cried. Mark captured the moment. And then I sucked it up and interviewed survivors.
I know the journalists in Texas who lost their homes are talking to survivors, interviewing public officials for the latest directives, searching out resources for their readers, describing the pitfalls residents are facing or will soon encounter.
We get so much more from our work than a paycheck.
The morning after Hurricane Katrina, I made a beeline for East Biloxi, my favorite place. I’ve interviewed so many characters in those quaint cottages and clapboard homes. I watched first responders work in mountains of rubble, many of them without homes, too.
They were pulling out bodies. One body lay nearby in a plastic bag. A hearse eventually crawled up the littered street to retrieve it.
I thought about the house we lost and all the stuff inside that washed away. And, right then and there, I realized it just didn’t matter so much.