10 years later, we remember Katrina

Published 12:01 am Sunday, August 30, 2015

During the latter part of last week, my mind drifted back 10 years and two vastly different questions raced to mind.

Has it really been 10 years ago? It doesn’t seem that long.

Followed instantly with a disbelieving: Has it only been 10 years? It seems a lifetime ago.

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The questions stirred along with deep emotions about the storm of our lifetime — Hurricane Katrina — and its horrible, deadly wake of destruction.

It seems like just a few years ago that the world’s eyes were on New Orleans while Mississippi’s eyes and hearts were focused on our own suffering.

I was fortunate; my view of Katrina, like that of millions of others in the world, wasn’t from a front row seat, but rather through the eyes of newspaper and TV reporters. In August 2005, I was living and working in Ohio, safe from the storm.

But for those in the storm’s wake, the devastation was, and is to the day, very real.

If you haven’t given Katrina much thought, I’d urge you to spend some time looking through the retrospective work of the Pulitzer-Prize winning newspaper, The Sun Herald. Their website contains dozens of amazing stories of heroism, tragedy and destruction.

Katrina is very much a story of the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

New Orleans had a flood that was sparked by the storm, but the Mississippi Gulf Coast took a direct punch in the face from Mother Nature.

Natchez was relatively unscathed from the storm’s weather wrath, those who were here have told me.

My wife, who was a news reporter at The Democrat during the storm, found a few emails she sent in the days after the storm that shed some light on the state of Natchez in late August and early September 2005.

“We’ve finally gotten power and Internet going at my house and at the newspaper,” she wrote to family and friends late Wednesday morning, 48 hours after the storm passed through.

“Natchez had gusts up to 50 mph and some trees through houses, etc.,” Julie wrote. “Nothing major, nothing remotely like the Coast.

“But we are still mid-crisis here. We have 900-plus in five Red Cross shelters and well over a couple thousand in hotels, in campers and staying with friends. We are guessing there’s close to 5,000 refugees in town.

“Much of town is still without power. The schools are all closed for the week.

“There is no regular-grade gas to be found in Natchez. You can get premium if you wait in line for an hour. There were fights at several gas stations last night,” she wrote.

“For every person I’ve talked to who got away, they know someone who stayed behind. Very few have made contact with those family members,” she said.

That gut-wrenching feeling of simply not-knowing if loved ones or even one’s house were safe continued for days after the skies had cleared.

Weeks after the storm, lines of desperate people snaked through downtown Natchez hoping to get a Red Cross relief check. National Guard troops patrolled the streets to keep order as millions of dollars were distributed to those in need.

Three weeks removed from the storm, Julie’s email to friends in other parts of the world summed up the feeling that many throughout Mississippi had about Katrina.

“Is the rest of the world back to normal?” she asked as she closed an email.

The answer was most certainly, “No,” at least for those who had front-row seats on the storm.

May God bless the Gulf Coast and its hardy people, and may He also bless all of the big-hearted people who live at inland safe havens such as Natchez.


Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.