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One Year Anniversary Review: Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina, satellite heat image from Weatherunderground.com, Sunday, one day before it it, at category 5Two weeks after my first post on WordPress.com, Hurricane Katrina sent us running for our lives away from the Gulf Coast of the United States.

We had just come back after running from Hurricane Dennis a couple weeks before, so we had an idea of what we were up against. Having just ran, sat through, and survived four hurricanes of varying levels since May (or was it April), it didn’t take long for us to become experienced hurricane runners. With a week’s notice of Katrina, I put one of my favorite WordPress features to work and posted a long string of future posts to keep releasing on my blogs, even if I wasn’t online.

On my main site, I first wrote about Hurricane Katrina’s approach on August 24, 2005. By August 26, we knew we were too close to ground zero to stay where we were. We hadn’t unpacked from Dennis, so it wouldn’t take long for us to load things up and leave. So we thought. Then I saw my first real picture of what was coming at us.

We evacuated to Atlanta at the last moment, and found a location with hit and miss WIFI Internet. My first report on the hurricane for this blog was about the many bloggers blogging about Hurricane Katrina. It was an interesting article to write. Not only did I look for those who were still reporting from ground zero, as much as possible, I found a lot of people talking about their memories of New Orleans and their feelings about what was happening, real or imagined, to those left behind or fleeing.

One blogger, Catwi, wrote the following which touched me:

“I went through our photos of our last trip and could see in my mind’s eye the stones of the cathedral scattered over Jackson Square, the statue down and pulled by the receding flood waters into the river.”

Hurricane Katrina smashed into the Gulf Coast of the United States on August 29, 2005, destroying almost every town, building, and home along the entire Mississippi coast. A storm surge, the equivalent of a tsunami, a wall of water that topped 30 feet above sea level at Biloxi, Mississippi, Highway 98 between Ocean Springs and Biloxi, Mississippi, destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, photograph copyright Lorelle VanFossenslammed into the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama at over 100 miles an hour, surging 6-12 miles inland, destroying everything in its path.

The storm surge combined with the volumes of rain overwhelmed Lake Pontchartrain and the canal and drainage system, breaking the levees and drowning an estimated 80% of the city under water hours after the all clear signals had been given. New Orleans had thought it had escaped once again. In a way it did. In a way, it didn’t. What man has built, let nature easily put asunder.

The total of dead currently stands at 1,836 people. The damage and destruction covered an area of 85,000 square miles across several states, totaling an estimate of $81.2 billion US dollars in damages, making it the costliest hurricane in US history.

We returned to Alabama to find massive devastation and ruin. While the world focused on New Orleans underwater, the totally Yacht Club and Apartment Building completely destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, photograph copyright Lorelle VanFossendevastated Mississippi and Alabama coastal towns and communities were ignored. Flood damage everywhere, trees snapped off or pulled from their roots and slammed into buildings and homes, and roofs of hotels and homes torn and tossed off like tin foil. Along a several the entire stretch of the Mississippi coast, almost nothing was standing. It was ground zero, a nuclear war zone.

Mobile, Alabama, was still viable for habitation so it became a main staging ground for FEMA and insurance companies training and sending their agents out into the ruins of Mississippi and Louisiana. Every hotel, motel, hostel, campground, and parking lot were filled with tents, campers, trailers, and motor homes as workers set up shop to help the area recover.

My husband and I pitched in and helped everywhere we could, and when there was a break, I headed over to Mississippi and New Orleans with my camera. Seeing the devastation in person has got nothing on television. It was much worse than even my imagination could conceive.

Ocean Springs, Biloxi, and nearby communities in Mississippi were hit the hardest by the storm surge. A recent mecca for gamblers, floating casinos were picked up, cracked like eggs, and tossed upon the shore, hundreds of feet inland. Car in wreckage of house, along gulf coast near Biloxi, Mississippi, photograph copyright Lorelle VanFossenWhole neighborhoods were smashed to bits, with hardly any wreckage as the water and wind shoved it all inland, smashing everything into the finest splinters.

You couldn’t drive into any subdivision without seeing blue tarps on roofs and whole household’s items piled in huge mountains on front lawns. New Orleans was a mess, no doubt, but after seeing the nuclear war zone remains of Mississippi, in many ways, I still think New Orleans got off lightly. Still, most of the water damaged homes left rotting in the heat and humidity will have to be plowed down. For some, they tell me that at least there is something to bulldoze in New Orleans. There isn’t much left in parts of Mississippi. To each their own pain and suffering.

I made many trips and visits to friends in New Orleans, and as many told me, if the cleanup wasn’t fast, this summer was going to be a violent and nasty one in New Orleans. A year later, it is so sad to know how right they were.

Blogs were invaluable to many during Hurricane Katrina. They not only helped report what was happening on the ground, but also provided helpful ways for people to find their missing family members scattered by the storm. Many blogs provided information to help Hurricane Katrina survivors, and Home sits on top of a van near Ocean Springs, Mississippi, photograph copyright Lorelle VanFossenI even put together a list of IRS Tax Relief and Help for Victims of Hurricane Katrina informational packet, since it was information that I had to research for myself, too.

When Hurricane Rita arrived, people were better prepared, for the most part, and blogs were already in place to switch from news and information about Katrina to information about Rita, then later, Hurricane Wilma.

However, it didn’t take long for Katrina scams to start showing up, and one of the first places was in scam blogs for Hurricane Katrina, quickly followed by a plague of Hurricane Katrina comment spam promoting donations to slimy and doubtful aid agencies.

On the lighter side, a lot of rumors and blame were going around as people tried to find justification for the cause of Hurricane Katrina. So bloggers blogged about those.

Please do not loot written on side of van, Biloxi, Mississippi area, photograph copyright Lorelle VanFossenMy father helped spread the rumor that the hurricane was caused by a new secret weapon made by the Japanese to get revenge on the US for “the bomb”. Global warming got a lot of the blame, but god’s revenge got more air play.

I loved the “god’s revenge for [fill in the blank]” blames. I heard from many people who said it was god’s revenge for Bush stealing the election – twice. Others said it was god’s revenge for the sin and evil wickedness of New Orleans. My favorite, very specific blame, was that this was god’s revenge for Bush supporting Sharon in the withdrawal of Israel from Gaza. The things people get into their heads. Amazing.

The number of rumors for why and placing blame flooded the blogosphere. Even people who knew nothing of hurricanes, evacuations, FEMA, rescue operations, or any form of trauma were commenting on the situation. Even those who had never been to the Gulf Coast or New Orleans. Everyone had an opinion and blogs were their communication method.

Hurricane Katrina One Year Later

It is now the one year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. We’re still here in Alabama, and Hurricane Katrina is still with us every day.

Wendys Burgers Sign destroyed, photograph copyright Lorelle VanFossenThe electricity and digital cable continues to be intermittent as they continue to work on the lines and system. It’s improving, but the first six months after Katrina, it was on and off and on and off, and we never knew if we would have electricity for the entire day, let alone two hours in a row. Sitting in a tin heat box for hours without air conditioning in 96-100F plus temperatures and humidity was not the high point of my life. The power problems took a toll on our computer equipment, and we suffered quite a few hard drive crashes and equipment failures.

As I write this article, the electricity has spiked and popped off 3 times. This is one year later, folks. Not two weeks. There are plenty of things that are still not fixed or back to normal.

The future posts features of WordPress has been a life saver, allowing me to post a week or more of articles so they will continue to release on my blogs even when I’m battling computer, electrical, and travel trauma.

The first three months were all about living in survival and emergency mode. You deal with the most important things in life. Staying cool in the oppressive heat and humidity. Cleaning up roads, driveways, and yards of debris from branches to whole trees, and household products and lawn accessories you’ve never seen before that flew through the air or came up with the flooding waters and landed on your property.

Roofs were repaired, windows replaced, electricity and water repaired and restored, fresh water and food found wherever you could after you’d consumed whatever you had left in the freezer and fridge before it spoiled, and giving it away to those who had nothing, waiting for stores to open and shelves to restock. You shared what you had, helped where you could, and tried to get on with your lives.

You learned to maneuver the area around piles of storm debris, learning which roads were open and which still weren’t. Walking the sidewalks, you quickly got used to walking around piles of garbage pulled out of the houses, bushes, trees, and other debris, along with couches, ovens, stoves, baby carriages, cribs, furniture, and refrigerators, taped up as bio hazards, awaiting garbage pickups that took months to get to your part of town. The piles were so high, you couldn’t see the house beyond them. And once gone, another pile built up to replace the first, second, third, fourth, and more.

The focus was on the immediate, not the future. One day at a time took on new meaning as we struggled through the wreckage that was our past lives.

Hurricane Katrina, one year later in Mobile, Alabama, destroyed mall signs still remain, photograph copyright Lorelle VanfossenAs we worked very long hours, sweat pouring off of us and bugs eating us, a depression settled in. People started fighting with each other for no reason. Little things became big things. We were tired, exhausted, just worn out, and everywhere we looked, more destruction, more disaster, more ruin. For months it felt like we’d never climb out of the hole Hurricane Denise, Katrina, then Rita smashed into us.

I’m sure that Hurricane Katrina, its aftermath, and the blame game will be a big topic of discussion on news sites and blogs around the world this week. For those of us still living with its wreck and ruin, with many suffering from post traumatic stress and depression, it’s just a lot of talk by people who have no idea what they are talking about. Still, talking helps heal. I just wish more people were listening.

This morning, I woke up to find that Hurricane Ernesto is probably heading our way unless there’s a change in the weather, literally. We now have five days or less to prepare for its arrival along the Gulf Coast of the United States.

But we have time to prepare. That’s the point. A point forgotten.

The damage left behind by Hurricane Dennis, Katrina, Rita, and Wilma would have happened. However, the loss of life didn’t have to happen. We had almost two weeks warning that Katrina was heading our way. One week of definitely certainty. We now have five to seven days warning that Hurricane Ernesto will be knocking on our door. Are we ready?

I’m sure the government and rescue agencies will be better prepared. Their public images were really thrashed over the past year. But I’m not talking to them. I’m talking to you.

If you live within 50 miles of the Eastern seaboard, Florida, or along the Gulf Coast of the United States or Mexico, are you ready for the fury of mother nature? You have time to be ready, so take it. Make your plans. If you decide to ride it out, do not expect help or aid for 3-7 days. And don’t whine when you don’t get it. You’ve been warned.

The Hunt for Signs of Recovery

Throughout the long months of misery, feeling the oppression of depression all around us, we started looking for signs. Signs of improvement. Signs of betterment. Or just signs of normalcy. One of the strange things about our hunt for signs is that we often used signs as signs.

Last weekend, my husband and I were out running errands and realized that the one year anniversary was just around the corner. Yet, everywhere we look, there are still destroyed and boarded up homes and buildings. Store signs hang in shreds, if anything remains, on every other corner.

A Citgo gas station down the corner from us still has its entire roof twisted and tilted, its gas prices frozen still at $1.11 and $1.21, a memory of a cheaper time to travel. The “Gone With The Wind” motel near us was flooded and damaged in Hurricane Ivan, and then the roof was ruined and it was flooded again during Citco Gas Station on Daulphin Island Parkway, Mobile, Alabama, One Year After Hurricane Katrina, 2006, photograph copyright Lorelle VanFossenHurricane Katrina. It still stands there, curtains blowing in the slight wind through broken windows, it’s own sign a weathered reminder of a famous movie and natural disasters, and a reminder of things not fixed even after two years.

It’s sad and funny at the same time. As we drove home, he said, “You would think that the gas stations would at least get their signs fixed.”

We turned the corner on our street to see a huge sign truck installing a new Shell sign on the corner gas station. “A SIGN!” he shouted. “A sign of recovery!”

A year later, it’s our only sign in many ways.

Articles About Hurricane Katrina


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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen, member of the 9Rules Network

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7 Comments

  1. Catana
    Posted August 28, 2006 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    I grew up in South Florida and still remember clearly the hurricanes of the early fifties. We were flooded out of our home and lived with friends for several weeks. But even having gone through so many hurricanes, it’s hard to grasp what people along the Gulf coast have gone through for the past year. And right now, my sister is waiting for Ernesto. I live in Pennsylvania now but still anticipate hurricane season with dread.

  2. Posted August 28, 2006 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

    Lorelle–Thanks for posting on this. My parents and my brother and his family all live in Biloxi. Thankfully, their property was relatively unharmed. When they have come to visit since Katrina, they have brought pictures, and they have said over and over that there’s no way to really appreciate the level of destruction without seeing it firsthand. It has been frustating to me (and them) that New Orleans has received so much attention when the Mississippi Gulf Coast was in much worse shape. But New Orleans with its history of political corruption, the Quarter, and racial issues makes for a much better (read “sensational”) story than the devastation to a string of towns to the east.

  3. joe curry
    Posted November 30, 2007 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    Hello. I was browsing the web from my home in northeastern PA, when i came acroos this site. I had the privalidge of moving to grand bay AL., for the relief work. Although i was not there for the immidiate aftermath. I was proud to be only twenty years old and moving 2000 miles from home with two of my freinds to serve such a great cause. I lived in alabama for six months and was able to rebuild alot of all over the area. Including pascagoula,biloxi,grand bay,and moss point. anyhow i just wanted to tell my story for you. hope you liked it. bye bye…

  4. Posted March 21, 2009 at 3:36 am | Permalink

    It,s about time someone spoke up about the coast of mississippi and alabama,s aftermath of hurricane Katrina .I am from Brandon,Ms.It was a comfort to read that someone spoke up for how bad mississippi’s coast suffered. I am so sorry for how many folks suffered with the tradegy of hurricane Katrina.I had personally went to New Orleans and Pass Christian ,Wavelad and Biloxi ,Gulfport and Ocean Springs and Gautier and Daulphin Island.I was in dismay at the condition of New Orleans.I have a great love and passion for the city of New Orleans and all the wonderful people who bring the city alive.I even more Love my home of Misissippi!Tradegy is horrible no matter where it is. It just hurt that the focus went only to New Orleans it seemed.Yes,the tradegy that happened to all those people that fell victims of huricane katrina shall never be forgotten in my families hearts.Thank you for your continuos write ups and love for humanity….sincerly a friend

  5. Renae
    Posted August 24, 2012 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    I found this site in 2012 – I am still moved by all of this – I am not sure where you are or how you are now, but still praying for all!!

    • Posted August 24, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

      A quick check of the about page would let you know that we moved away from the gulf coast a year later and are now in the Pacific Northwest. Our move had nothing to do with Katrina. Thank you for your concern.


2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] The first batch of bloggers I blogged about were the first bloggers on WordPress.com, followed by bloggers blogging about Hurricane Katrina, which was of special interest to me since I was in its direct path. [...]

  2. [...] wake and retreat. Tornado force winds ripped out trees and turned them into missiles. Nary a sign, building, nor person was safe with the winds and the force of the storm surge [...]

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