Katrinas wrath still affects us all

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 17, 2006

Like many Americans, a big part of my understanding of Hurricane Katrina came from newspaper and TV news reports.

Some 850 miles separated Katrina&8217;s ground zero and me, but my heart was riding the storm out with friends and family in its path.

As a native of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, the first images of the destruction were slow to hit home as the early images of the area began trickling out.

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A couple days after the storm, the first comprehensive aerial survey of the damage was done. The images were utterly depressing.

Bridges I&8217;d crossed hundreds of times were ripped from their moorings.

Landmarks that made the places seem so familiar were just memories.

Even the church in which I&8217;d first learned about Christ was washed away. Only parts of the roof survived.

But my losses were only in memories, not life or property.

My older brother, Todd, however, was in the path of the storm.

The hospital at which he worked before the storm was a complete casualty when water flooded the structure.

He was on the &8220;recovery&8221; crew, scheduled to return to work a day or two after the storm. He never went back and the hospital is gone.

His son (my nephew) was in Iraq with the 155th Infantry Battalion of the Mississippi Army National Guard.

&8220;This is probably the only week that Matthew is safer in Iraq than he would be here,&8221; Todd said by telephone as the storm was beginning to hit.

We were still talking when a tree fell on his Picayune house.

&8220;Aww, (expletive deleted to avoid embarrassing our mother), something hit the house!&8221; he yelled through the telephone.

&8220;There&8217;s a leak in the roof,&8221; he said, after he calmed down a bit. &8220;It&8217;s leaking right into the bathtub.&8221;

Unbelievable. Todd is one of those folks who always land on their feet. He&8217;s one of those proverbially lucky souls.

A few minutes later, he spotted another leak in the bathroom. This one, he reported, was going directly into the toilet.

Luck strikes twice.

&8220;When the storm is passed, you need to go buy a lottery ticket, before your luck runs out,&8221; I told him.

We shared a brief laugh about his luck minutes before the telephone line was snapped by another tree.

Todd didn&8217;t have a telephone line for weeks, but amazingly with a gas generator providing the electricity, he had a stable Internet connection through the entire storm. He&8217;s ready to be a poster boy for his satellite TV/Internet provider since he never lost his connection.

For days, we communicated by instant messenger computer software.

He reported on damage and what he&8217;d seen and heard about recovery efforts.

&8220;Long Beach is just gone,&8221; he wrote one day, referring to our hometown on the Coast, after he went on a mission to locate a family member who no one had been able to reach.

&8220;It looks like something out of Fallujah,&8221; he said.

But despite all the property damage, Todd was struck by something much more real, if less human.

&8220;The worst thing I saw was the other day, when the eye passed over,&8221; he said.

&8220;I saw a momma squirrel running up and down trees, holding her dead baby squirrel in her mouth.

&8220;She didn&8217;t know what to do. There was nothing she could do and nowhere to go.&8221;

We&8217;re all just like that little squirrel. All we can do is pick up the pieces, remember the lost and love the ones still here.

Kevin Cooper

is associate publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or