Journalists who covered Hurricane Katrina offer tips for those dealing with Florence

Sun Herald employees remember Hurricane Katrina a decade after covering the storm

Ten years after the storm, Sun Herald employees remember Katrina’s strength, destruction and impact on South Mississippi.
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Ten years after the storm, Sun Herald employees remember Katrina’s strength, destruction and impact on South Mississippi.

If there’s one thing Sun Herald staff has experience with, it’s hurricanes.

Many members of our newsroom were working when Hurricane Katrina devastated the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 2005, and those that weren’t have covered lesser storms.

Luckily, we emerged unscathed from the most recent hurricane scare, but now our hearts go out to all the journalists covering the aftermath of Hurricane Florence.

We especially offer aid and advice to our fellow McClatchy papers in South Carolina (The Sun News in Myrtle Beach, The Island Packet in Hilton Head, The Herald in Rock Hill, The State in Columbia) and in North Carolina, The Charlotte Observer, The News & Observer in Raleigh).

Katrina was one of the most harrowing experiences of most of our lives, and we wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

But now that more journalists are dealing with the effects of “biblical” rainfall and flooding, we offer up some of the things we learned along the way.

Slower than you think

Recovery will be slow. Just know that now.

Whatever time frame you are thinking now for things to get back to normal, double it.

Do what you can today and leave the rest for tomorrow. It will still be there.

And, most importantly, don’t give up. Keep working. Keep plugging away. You’ll be surprised at the kindness of strangers wanting to help.

— Blake Kaplan, executive editor

Personal stories

My family moved to South Mississippi after Katrina to help rebuild, so I wasn’t here for the storm but arrived soon after. Everything I wrote for a year or two after Katrina had something to do with the storm.

Lot of national media will flood in. They’ll go the same places and do the same type of stories. Look where they aren’t looking and tell the stories that matter to the local communities.

Everybody will have a story. Some will be tragic, some bizarre. Your readers will want to know these personal stories. They also will care about the businesses that may be gone or are struggling to make a comeback.

Above all, be safe.

— Mary Perez, staff writer

Floodwater dangers

If your house got flooded, pull carpet and wet drywall out as quickly as possible. This is more important than work.

Don’t be surprised when you get unhappy with your insurance company.

Take a break. If you have worked two weeks without a day off, you need a day off take the proper time to take care of your own needs and your family.

Pace yourself.

Don’t try to do it all yourself.

Drink plenty of water, keep a stash of ready-to eat food with you.

Get steel-toed boots.

If you go into flood water, rinse off as quickly as you can.

If you have cuts, don’t go into flood water.

Keep one or more change of clothes and one or more towels with you, especially extra shoes and socks. Do not go all day with wet feet.

People will want to talk (not necessarily what you want them to talk about). Take the time to listen.

You also need to talk. Don’t keep things bottled in.

If your home wasn’t flooded, you may have survivor’s remorse. It’s OK, open your house to someone that got flooded (preferably someone you know).

If you stick a gallon of water outside in the morning to warm up, it makes for a better shower experience in the evening.

— John Fitzhugh, visual journalist

Take a break

Remember to take care of yourself.

In the days after the storm, we all worked very hard, taking few breaks and even less time off.

If you’re offered a chance to take a day or two off, take it. You’ll come back rested and ready to get after it.

If no one offers and you need a break, ask. You can’t help your company or your audience if you’re exhausted and can’t think.

— Kate Magandy, senior news editor

Weigh your options

If you’ve lost two out of three of your major supports (home, job, spiritual), move. You seriously might want to consider relocating, because the aftermath and reconstruction and rebuilding and the pain of people around you is very difficult.

Not everyone needs to put themselves through it.

In my case, we lost my husband’s job but had the house and most of the belongings and my job. The children had school again, after two months, and we stayed.

Our church was flooded and people were scattered and heartbroken and in need of a lot of help. To get spiritual and mental health support, we had to look outside the area, so we could be solid here. You can’t give away what you don’t have.

— Karen Nelson, staff writer

Family first

Take care of your family first. If you know your family (and that includes pets) is safe, you’ll be better able to concentrate on your job.

— Paul Hampton, opinion editor

Stay clean

Buy hand sanitizers and “baby wipes”/ personal hygiene wipes.

If you have an above-ground swimming pool that withstands the storm, even if you have no power, clean it and shock it; stir the water. Voila.

A way to bathe and you can lean your head outside the pool to rinse out shampoo.

— Robin Fitzgerald, staff writer

Crowded cities

Don’t underestimate the effect evacuees can have on nearby cities. Get those stories.

I was at LSU in Baton Rouge when Katrina hit. Evacuees from New Orleans started being bused in that night and continued to come over the coming months and years.

The first day schools and businesses reopened, it was citywide gridlock. Baton Rouge’s population skyrocketed and has been higher ever since.

Worse than that was the emotional toll of having both survivor’s guilt and a vast number of people dealing with trauma. It was a heavy weight for the whole city, and region, but the stories of people helping each other always made the load lighter.

— Lauren Walck, senior news editor

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