Reporter's Notebook

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Katrina Memories

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November 2004 Pictures 661

Ten years ago, Hurricane Katrina came ashore in New Orleans. The hurricane didn’t do the worst damage. The breaking levees did. By the time I, as a public affairs specialist for the Department of Interior, arrived as part of an interagency cohort to assist FEMA with disaster communications, a month had passed.

I first went to Little Rock as the PAO for the Katrina field office. Through a snafu between agencies, I was forced to return to my home state in Utah. But after an appeal to higher DOI authorities by a FEMA disaster coordinator also with high authority, I was sent to the FEMA Joint Information Center in Austin. For the next month, I and a team of other FEMA staff and agency PAOs conducted press conferences, disseminated disaster information and helped the JIC coordinate between the state, localities and the feds about everything from abatement checks to bottled water.  And we worked not only in the aftermath of Katrina, but also of Hurricane Rita.

Then, three months later, I was sent to New Orleans as a debris specialist for the Army Corps of Engineers, where I inspected debris haulers to insure their loads were carrying acceptable debris and weren’t violating load requirements as set by FEMA, the Corps and the EPA.

In both cases, the assignments were a month long and each day was 12-hours. By the time I left, I never wanted to see another broken anything again. But there are memories I will never lose.

  • An acres-big field of nothing but water logged refrigerators and freezers, unopened, and full of spoiled food.
  • Miles of dead trees all bent at the same angle
  • The Louisana Superdome with huge blue jean like patches on the roof
  • A rusted barge, visible from the bridges, protruding into a lower ninth ward levee
  • Streets full of real houses that look like stomped on toy houses
  • A steel freeway billboard sign bent parallel to the highway
  • Mardi Gras and ankle deep garbage on Bourbon St.
  • Watching the end of Mardi Gras marked by a line of mounted police pushing drunk revelers ahead of them off Bourbon St.
  • A water line two feet above my head drawn on every building in sight
  • Eating a dinner of black bean and sausage soup in a restaurant with a “B” on a piece of paper taped to the window
  • Every windshield of every car seemed to be cracked
  • The flooded out and destroyed Walmart on Tchoupitoulas St. not far from the Corps field office.
  • Vast and ghostly expanses of empty neighborhoods
  • A stolen, burnt Ferrari discovered right behind my work assignment one morning that wasn’t there the night before

And many, many more.

I hope to go to New Orleans someday. Maybe even Second-Line. But today, I remember the people who suffered, who died and everyone who worked so very hard to try to make it right.

And I remember the sentiment of New Orleanians, as expressed in something I found scrawled on a bathroom wall.

Photo by me.

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Written by Interviewer

August 30, 2015 at 08:05

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