Tuesday, August 31, 2010

5 Years Since Katrina

Today isn't the official five year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, but for me it is. Five years ago today I traveled with my dad into the area hit hardest by Katrina.

When Katrina passed over Florida I already, being an amateur meteorologist, predicted that Katrina would explode into a storm that would never be forgotten. I was, sadly, right.

My dad was doing video work for the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod at the time and I went along as a still photographer. The year prior I went with my dad to Hurricane Ivan in Pensacola so I was somewhat prepared for what was, but that somewhat was nothing to what I experienced.

The first day we went out we knew that getting into New Orleans would be impossible. The world was watching the incredible images of the roof top rescues, but there was no news out of the towns East of New Orleans. On a hunch, and a prediction that the storm surge was worse on the East side of the eye wall, we traveled towards Waveland, Mississippi.

The roads were difficult to navigate as we neared Waveland due to the amount of debris. The picture to the right may show the impact, but imagine seeing that in all directions for miles!

The amount of sadness that this storm induced will never fully be felt. I knew I had to take as many photos as I could to capture the scene because, unless you were there, words and pictures will only go so far.

The sound down these streets was of a deafening silence. Once the motor to the van was turned off the only sounds that were heard was that of one's own breath. There were no other cars (we saw a couple search and rescue teams, but none were in the area by the beach that we were at), no birds, and no life. We were alone. What had been a beautiful neighborhood with elaborate homes with nice front porches that were protected by high trees was now just a debris field.

At the time, and probably even now, I don't understand and haven't processed all the emotions from that experience. This isn't to say that it was hard for me as I lost nothing in the storm unlike so many people, but I realized that in all this debris, this haphazard pile of rubble, lives were represented. What was a shard of a plate may have been a wedding gift. A toy car may have been a child's favorite toy.

I said the silence was deafening and it truly was. It could have been the most tranquil place because the one time I closed my eyes the silence was of pure peace, but once my eyes opened again I was brought back to reality. The soundless land was a lifeless land. It didn't matter where one looked as there was no escaping the fields of debris.

At this point in time we were the only media of any form in this area. The search and rescue dogs had not been here yet and the primary news outlets were focused on New Orleans. We were first to Waveland and first into the beach area and I still can't believe it was five years ago.

My experience covering Katrina certainly shaped who I am. I know I took things was granted before I went down to take photos, but afterwards I realized just how fast things can change. Again, I didn't lose anyone or anything to the storm, but being in the midst of what used to be a neighborhood and only seeing shards of wood and partial foundations is something that I think would move anyone.
Today is five years. It seems like yesterday that I was living in a world of lifelessness. The stillness and silence is still with me. It was an experience I will never forget and will stay with me forever. I hope that my words and pictures conveys the emotions I felt and gives you just a clearer picture of what was a storm that will never be forgotten.

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