Photographer Nolan Tornquist and reporter Mike Watkiss September 2005
It was a grim disaster area full of desperation and looting. A polarized community desperate to keep safe posting signs, "you loot we shoot." Even the dead couldn't find rest in the battered coastal town of Biloxi, Mississippi. People wait patiently in long lines to get essential supplies. Others, struck in awe, gazing at the rubble of what was once their beautiful historic homes. A man afoot lugging nothing more than a suitcase puts it all in prospective of how much was lost in a sudden violent burst of nature.
Covering Hurricane Katrina
by Mike Watkiss
Link to Mike's BIO
It was the kind of assignment that definitely left a mark; a soul searing experience that began the moment we got off an airplane in Baton Rouge and were immediately immersed in the destruction, death and despair delivered by a monster hurricane named Katrina.
Veteran news cameraman Nolan Tornquist and I were among a group of journalists dispatched to the Gulf Coast as Katrina approached. Our plane touched down just as the worst of the storm was passing, leaving behind an awesome and awful aftermath unlike anything I had ever seen.
The stories presented here are among the many reports Nolan and I produced during the unforgettable week we spent traversing the back roads and cut-off communities devastated by the fearsome storm. Many of our stops were in places that had not seen an outsider, to say nothing of aid and assistance, since before the storm struck.
From a cozy little Louisiana enclave known as Covington to a tiny dot on the map called Slidell, the destruction was monumental. Downed trees and power lines covered roads throughout the region. Countless homes and businesses were reduced to rubble. ! Overturned cars and boats lay strewn about in yards and intersections like children’s toys. Communication systems were wiped out and waist deep floodwaters mixed with raw sewage flowed through streets.
But it was the human toll of the terrible storm that tore a jagged scar deep in my soul; a brutal toll that we witnessed most graphically as we made our way to the battered and bloodied City of Biloxi, Mississippi. Katrina flooded New Orleans. Biloxi was flattened. The devastation was mind-blowing and the response of our government from the President on down was, for the most part, abysmal.
It was a week in which Nolan and I slept in a car that we had commandeered from a Louisiana T.V. station. At night we parked behind a truck stop and slept with one eye open, hoping to avoid desperate looters and thieves.
By day, we covered the stories of people who had lost everything short of their lives. We also covered the grim discovery and recovery of bodies churned up and buried in the mountains of debris. It was a living nightmare and with the help of Nolan’s extraordinary camera work I believe we produced some of the most gripping and gut wrenching reports that I have ever been associated with.
It was a tough week, but we were keenly aware that whatever hardships and discomfort we endured were nothing compared to the plight of the people who call the Gulf Coast home. We had homes to go back to.
And I must confess when we finally got back to the airport for our trip home, I called my family and as soon as I heard the voices of my children I wept like a baby.