Mississippi Rising -- From Katrina that is
It seems like yesterday, but it’s been five years since hurricane Katrina ravaged the gulf coast and five years since “heck of a job Brownie.” Most of us remember it differently -- in particular former CNN correspondent Kathleen Koch, who is celebrating the launch of her new book at Politics & Prose on Wednesday night. “Rising from Katrina: How My Mississippi Hometown Lost It All and Found What Mattered,” is a riveting and harrowing account of what it was like to be part of nature’s destructive force and the aftermath. “I was reporting from Mobile when the hurricane roared in, and then spent the next week in Mississippi,” said Koch. “Networks located media crews in locations they (and we) considered safe -- like north of the I-10 Interstate in Mississippi or at a hotel in Mobile to the east of expected landfall. FEMA and most of the aid agencies apparently positioned themselves further north in places like Hattiesburg and Jackson, Mississippi. They had to cut their way south through miles of downed trees. Hence, it took nearly a week before they arrived.” “Rule #1 when covering a hurricane:” she said. “Buy all the food, water and gasoline you will need to sustain yourselves. If you’re covering a Cat 2 storm, then three day’s worth may suffice. It it’s a Cat 4 or 5, you’d better buy enough supplies for a week. So yes, we breakfasted on granola bars, lunched on tuna packs and dinner was pop-top Campbell’s soup -- and it was all delicious! Working as hard as you do at times like this, anything you eat tastes like a banquet. Not sharing the food and water supplies was devastating, according to Koch. “That was one of the most difficult things to deal with -- being one of the few with ready access to food, water and gasoline. The guilt was magnified because I grew up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in the tiny town of Bay St. Louis. The survivors I was interviewing who had lost everything were my friends, high school classmates and neighbors. I continually offered them what we had, but most declined and just urged us to get the word out that no help had come and people were suffering.” She remembers it as if it was yesterday. “I realized that then we’d be the victims and unable to do our jobs -- which at that moment was truly the best way to help the most people. Still, I dealt for years with the suffocating guilt over how you can consider yourself a good person if you didn’t give away what you had.” “I no longer have much trust or faith that the federal government is capable of responding well or speedily after a major disaster. I know that what national officials say is happening on the ground at times like this may actually be very far from the truth. I have learned that though some in federal agencies may have a good understanding of what is in store and what needs to be done to prepare and respond, that information doesn’t necessarily get to the top decision-makers. Consequently, bad decisions are made that end up impacting survivors for days, weeks, months, even years,” she said. “I tell civic groups that after a calamity on the magnitude of Katrina, you are on your own. For days, and perhaps weeks, you will have to rely on your neighbors -- literally and figuratively. The first and sometimes best help will come from bordering cities and states. The federal government will get there when it can.” Koch heads to the Gulf on Friday for commemorative ceremonies.