X marks the spot

26 08 2010

On August 29, 2005  Hurricane Katrina, the worst natural disaster the United States has ever known, made landfall near Waveland, MS … my hometown.  Overshadowed by the flood damage caused by Katrina’s strength breaking the levees in Louisiana, many people don’t realize that ground zero was actually in the state of Mississippi.  At this point, however, that is irrelevant.  For the last 5 years I have been blogging periodically on this topic regarding anything from damage, to recovery, to humanitarians, and many other effects of this life changing event.  Each year, at this time, I post a series of commemorative pieces on myspace.  This year, here on wordpress, I offer you a collage of things I have written about Hurricane Katrina as well as some other items from other sources.  This will be my first series posted on wordpress and I hope that you will join me in this meaningful journey…

What I lost cannot be found
washed away at sea
what I long for cannot be achieved
so I wonder if I should leave
leave behind my home
the home that left me behind
left me in a place that I don’t recognize
-Suz 7/29/10

The costliest natural disaster in US history
One of the 5 deadliest hurricanes in US history
The deadliest US hurricane since the 1928 Okeechobe Hurricane
Total property damage $81 Billion +
Upon landfall, Katrina sustained 125mph winds and extended 120 miles from the storm’s center
Katrina maintained strength well into Mississippi, finally losing hurricane strength more than 150 miles inland

Taken from “Hold the Salt Please” by Suz (Original post date September 16, 2008):
“In the wake of all these depressing anniversaries, Katrina & 9/11, I’m feeling a little down.  I must admit, I don’t think of 9/11 as much as I should… though I remember it like yesterday. For days I set glued to the TV in a depressed state as the media continuously replayed the horrific images of the twin towers destruction.  Though, because I don’t actually live near the destruction, after a couple of years this memory was filed on a back shelf in my mind… only to be reminded when the media brought it back to the forefront.  I don’t mean to downplay 9/11, but for me it was best shelved because the depressive and fear-filled effect it had on me was too much of a burden to bear.
Hurricane Katrina, on the other hand, is a horrific event I’m reminded of daily because I live at ground zero.  I live among the stagnating recovery process and dark cloud that continues to loom over my town.  I never got away from it, so I don’t see the progress that some see.  Driving around town this weekend, it felt as though Katrina hit just yesterday.  My stomach ached and my eyes filled with tears.  It seems never ending.  The few friends I have left here are all in the market to relocate now.  Employment is down here and businesses are closing shop left and right.  I have been looking for a job for 5 weeks now to no avail.  I feel like I’ve moved to a miserable place that lacks opportunity or activity, and I’m homesick for a place that is only a distant memory now.”

Taken from “Remembering the Day the Coast Changed” by Melissa M. Scallan (Sun Herald writer):
“Latham, the director of MEMA, and other emergency officials monitored the hurricane advisories and knew Mississippi likely would take a big hit. What they didn’t know was how much of the Coast would be wiped away in an eight-hour span.
Katrina’s beginnings were somewhat different from other storms. It grew from a combination of a tropical wave, a trough and the remnants of Tropical Depression 10 nearly 950 miles east of Barbados. It became Tropical Depression 12 on Aug. 23, 2005, and passed over South Florida as a Category 1 hurricane two days later. The storm weakened only slightly and the eye stayed intact as Katrina moved into the Gulf of Mexico. Low wind shear and warm water fueled the hurricane and by Aug. 28, Katrina took up nearly the entire Gulf and had winds of 175 mph.
Its fury did not discriminate. Katrina killed young and old, rich and poor. The oldest victim was 96-year-old Pearl Frazier of Biloxi. She couldn’t leave the home her late husband had built on Back Bay in the 1970s. The youngest known victim was 2-year-old Matthew Tart of Pass Christian. The 20-foot storm surge overtook the home he lived in on Lorraine Avenue.
The winds were a strong Category 3, but the storm surge topped 30 feet in some places, crushing tens of thousands of houses, churches and businesses and covering many more with water.”

Christian and I sat across the dining table with a transistor radio between us and a deck of cards we tried to focus on playing with. The wind howled outside and we tried to block out scary noises like crashes and bangs.  We were struggling to pick up any radio station and honed in on a a.m. station broadcasting soul music and storm updates out of New Orleans.  Our guts wrenched to the point of feeling physically ill as we listened to the frightening broadcast that began to unfold detailing the struggles for survival in Louisiana, and we were in the thick … dead center of the same storm.   Earlier I had lost the phone signal while speaking to my mother, 8 long miles away from me and screaming about windows bursting and water entering her home.  She and my father, now in their early 70’s, alone in a situation I fought imagining.  I couldn’t fight the urge to have a cigarette inside my home.  I decided I would go into the recreation room to smoke and try to keep it out the house.  I opened the door and stepped down into a fast growing pool of water.  My heart sank.  This house was 23 feet above sea level! My first though was of those, 8 miles south of me and below sea level.  Visions of loved ones flashed in my mind.  I rushed to a window, calling for Christian and we stood in awe watching white caps rolling down the street.  My mind was racing on thoughts of survival and wishing I knew how to swim.  Moments earlier we were praying for the lives of those in danger, and now we were praying for our lives.  -Suz 8/23/10

PEOPLE’s Sept. 19, 2008  issue ran an abridged version of reporter Alice Jackson’s tragic story: When Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Mississippi coast on Aug. 29, she lost her Ocean Springs, Miss., home and nearly all her possessions. Here she describes the storm and its aftermath in greater detail. Here are some quotes from her story:
“Saturday, I evacuated to my friend’s house with my 81-year-old mother, my 28-year-old niece and my sister-in-law. We packed clothes, food and water – plus axes, an extension ladder and flares. That way we could cut our way out through the roof if necessary. As a reporter, I’d covered too many hurricanes where people drowned in their attics because they couldn’t escape the rising water. On Sunday, the news showed the eye of the hurricane heading toward our exact location. That night, before the TV went out, a report said, ‘It’s looking better for New Orleans, and the very worst for the Gulfport area.’ After hearing that, I said to everyone, ‘I want you to forgive me now, because I think I made a mistake. I’m afraid we’re all going to have to fight very hard not to die.’
All night I’d been watching a giant pine tree in a neighbor’s yard. It had been bending mightily, but had stayed rooted. Suddenly I heard a deafening crack, and I yelled, “Run!” Seconds later the tree smashed through the house. We had escaped to the master bedroom closet in the center of the house. My sister-in-law hauled a mattress off the bed and leaned it on top of my mother and my niece. Then we noticed that the walls were heaving, so we raced around the house, opening windows to relieve the pressure build-up. Looking outside, we watched in horror as the house behind us turned into what looked like a living, breathing monster. The roof would lift, the house would expand, and then the roof would fall. Finally, the house exploded.
The next day, we drove out to see what had happened. When we turned toward my street, all I saw was a big lake where there once had been houses, trees and roads.  Finally, about three miles from my property, we were stopped by debris: the remains of what had once been beautiful homes, with tattered curtains blowing from shattered windows and overturned furniture covered in mud. We walked through the debris, which was sometimes head-high.Some women were pointing toward an empty slab. They told us, ‘Last night, there was a house there, and a whole family was in it.’ One woman screamed, ‘Where are the children?’ We walked toward them, and I stepped on something. It was a little shoe, with a leg attached; it was a body, buried in mud. I told the women as calmly as I could, ‘Please don’t pull this out; let the rescue crews do it. You don’t have anywhere to put it, and you can’t just leave it out here.’ My house … it was completely gone. I knelt down on my slab and said out loud, ‘I am so grateful that the people I love have lived.’ And I cried. I had 20 good years in that house, and I feel fortunate.
After I went to Sunday mass in my old church – which was still standing – I decided it was time to stop digging in the mud and start rebuilding my life. I no longer want to live in Mississippi. You know you’ve seen it all when you’ve watched deputies taking ice chests from the local Winn-Dixie to store bodies. I will leave here and make a new life somewhere else.”

Although, winds, flooding and occasional tornadoes accompany hurricanes, most damage and death are caused by the storm surge.  The surge consists of the rising of the sea level caused by low pressure, high winds, and high waves. These are characteristic of hurricanes as they reach land. Storm surges cause significant flooding, and being caught in one is extremely hazardous.
The fall in air pressure with a hurricane helps with the rise in water. Normal pressure at sea level is 29.92126 inches or 14.6969 pounds per square inch. In the wall of the hurricane’s eye, ascending and spiraling winds lift over a million tons of air per second. This process drops the surface pressure as the air soars. The surface of the sea rises one foot for each one inch drop in barometric pressure due to the air rising within the eyewall.
If you think about the weight or mass of water, it is easy to understand why a storm surge can cause so much damage. One cubic meter of water has a mass of 1,000 kilograms. If we look at the weight of water using the British system, most of us are used to, we see that a cubic yard of water weighs nearly 1,700 pounds! (Source: Center for Atmospheric Sciences)

No sooner had the water began to cover the floor of the recreation room, it began to seep out never making it into the rest of the house.  Looking out now, we could see the whitecaps change direction moving almost as quickly as they had rolled in.  It was this suction that put so many lives in danger.  Though we realized we were momentarily safe from downing, we then began to notice the many trees outside swaying close to the house.  We quickly realized we needed to stay in the center of the house and that smoking indoors in the center of the house was not only our best option, but our only option.  We prayed heavily and paced, chain smoking and listening to a voice on the radio telling of how the roof was peeling off the New Orleans Superdome filled with evacuated people.  We were about 6 hours into the storm and about 4 hours past the last time I’d heard my mother’s voice.  I was feeling ill.  I’d become sick thinking of what I knew so many people, so widespread were enduring.  My parents weighed heavy on my mind. -Suz 8/25/10

The Gulf coast of Mississippi suffered massive damage from the impact of Hurricane Katrina on August 29, leaving 238 people dead, 67 missing, and billions of dollars in damage: bridges, barges, boats, piers, houses and cars were washed inland.  Katrina traveled up the entire state, and afterwards, all 82 counties in Mississippi were declared disaster areas for federal assistance, 47 for full assistance. Battered by wind, rain and storm surge, some beachfront neighborhoods were completely leveled. Preliminary estimates by Mississippi officials calculated that 90% of the structures within half a mile of the coastline were completely destroyed, and that storm surges traveled as much as six miles (10 km) inland in portions of the state’s coast. One apartment complex with approximately thirty residents seeking shelter inside collapsed.
A number of streets and bridges were washed away. In the weeks after the storm, with the connectivity of the coastal U.S. Highway 90 shattered, traffic traveling parallel to the coast was reduced first to State Road 11 (parallel to I-10) then to two lanes on the remaining I-10 span when it was opened.
All three coastal counties of the state were severely affected by the storm. Katrina’s surge was the most extensive, as well as the highest, in the documented history of the United States;  there were inundated by the storm surge and in all three cases affecting most of the populated areas. Surge covered almost the entire lower half of Hancock County, destroying the coastal communities. Remarkably, over 90% of Pascagoula, the easternmost coastal city in Mississippi, and about 75 miles (121 km) east of Katrina’s landfall near the Louisiana-Mississippi border, was flooded from surge at the height of the storm.
Although Hurricane Katrina made landfall well to the west, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle were both affected by tropical-storm force winds and a storm surge varying from 12 to 16 feet.
Katrina’s storm surge led to 53 levee breaches in the federally built levee system protecting metro New Orleans and the failure of the 40 Arpent Canal levee. Nearly every levee in metro New Orleans was breached as Hurricane Katrina passed just east of the city limits. Failures occurred in New Orleans and surrounding communities. The major levee breaches in the city left approximately 80% of the city flooded. Levee breaches in New Orleans also caused widespread loss of life, with over 700 bodies recovered in New Orleans by October 23, 2005. (Source: Wikipedia.com)

Please follow me on this journey over the next few days as I post this series about Hurricane Katrina.
Thank you,



24 responses

26 08 2010
uncle jailbird

for the life of me i can’t remember much about the local impact of katrina, save the gas shortages and high prices. from what i’ve heard, all the gas used locally comes by barge from pascagoula. i also remember downtown flooding in mobile and pensacola, as well as an oil platform that got wedged under the cochrane bridge in mobile.

26 08 2010
Neil John Brimelow

What are you talking about Uncle Jailbird? Did you live on the Mississippi gulf coast during Katrina?

26 08 2010
uncle jailbird

nope. in the florida panhandle. i think we just got the edge. i don’t remember anything weather related that sticks out.

26 08 2010

I think for that area it was just severely bad weather, but I do imagine there were issues with gasoline prices and import/export business…etc…

26 08 2010

Looking forward to the rest of the series Suz….

26 08 2010

Thanks Carolyn 🙂

26 08 2010

Thank you for this. Sometimes we need to be reminded to keep things in perspective.

26 08 2010

Indeed… but you know, each year that I do this I get a little more emotional than the year before. I wonder why…

26 08 2010
Howie Charles

When I read the myspace blog I tried to compare Katrina to an earthquake but in reality an earthquake last for perhaps 3 minute os up to 20 minutes. But Katrina is still going on. Peace, howie

26 08 2010

Amazing that the recovery is taking so long really… It’s hard to blame anyone for that though because the destruction was so immeasurable. I mean, a complete wipe out. So how can you say it’s taking too long to rebuild an entire city’s infrastructure as well as residency??? But, I have to say some of the ways they are going about it are ignorant and hideous to say the least!!!

26 08 2010

That disaster HAD to occur on my birthday. 😦

27 08 2010

Oh well, at least something good happened on that day. 🙂 And don’t feel bad, I share my birthday with Obama!

27 08 2010

Ugh….. I am glad the media is doing stories about it leading up to the anniversary and they have not just forgotten about it. Holy hell, as I speak, they are about to do a story on Bay St Louis…. gotta watch this. Oh, that makes me equally glad that not all the stories are going to be about NOLA.

27 08 2010

Well that IS cool. I’ve been seeing a ton of shows about NOLA & they always present it as if that’s where the hurricane made landfall, which is not true as you know. I heard Fox news is doing something about us tonight also, so that’s cool too.

29 08 2010
29 08 2010

As a Katrina survivor myself,I agree with you Suz,I drive around daily and can still see the destruction everywhere.And here we are 5 years later and the impact is still just as strong now as it was then.The waters have receded,the winds calmed,but the devastation is still with us.

29 08 2010

I have said many times, I need to get away from here for a while & come back to appreciate the progress. It seems so stagnant in the thick of it. Realistically, though, I do think the progress is slow in some cases for the wrong reasons. Sure, the devastation is massive and will obviously take time to rebuild but why the beach front here remains a dead zone is just beyond me… THAT is this area’s bread and butter so I don’t get the hold up! Oh well, a touchy subject for those of us still here for sure.

29 08 2010

Just a very sad reminder Suz. I was not aware that you lived at ground zero. I cant imagine the anxiety you often feel. My thoughts are with you and of course I will continue on reading this series.

29 08 2010

The anxiety… yes, I guess that truly is the best way to describe it. And to have to continue to deal with it while still living among so much damage and emptiness. It’s really strange… hard to put into words. Thanks for reading.

3 09 2010

OMG Suz. Is that your house at the bottom of the article? This is just too much. When I got to the part where the kids body and omg…what can I say? I hope I get to come stop by and see you. Reading all this just makes me want to cry. I’m heading on to your next post ok? I’ve been in a rut lately. This time of year does it to me. Long story.

5 09 2010

I’m reading all your comments at once… and backwards!! Sorry. No, that’s not my house. My house before & after is pic’d on myspace though. I was very fortunate in not coming in contact with any dead people, though they were all around me. I did come across dead animals though, and that was hard enough.

20 12 2011

I must admit, I admire you for hanging in there. It really is hard when your entire life is swept away from you. Things more than meet the eye are swept away as well. But what troubles me doubly is that you had to go through not only the horror of that hurricane, but the ugliness of the toxic BP disaster.

I am glad you are writing about this still. It helps to look back and keep things in perspective. I see commercials from time to time from BP telling us how cool it is to come back to the Gulf Coast and hang out with them. Of course, that’s where they all live. It’s was their home that they f***ed up, but it’s ok, they’ve fixed it now. It was nothing but a thing.

In Vegas, there is another sucking sound. It is the sound of all of these big beautiful $350k houses they built that are going under water. The value of houses in the valley has dropped by 60%, and over 60% of the homeowners owe more than their house is worth (they’re underwater). This is the highest in the nation. Unemployment is the highest in the nation. Foreclosures are highest in the nation. The number of homeless has increased by 40% in the past two years. 60 to 100 foreclosed houses are sold in auction every day, and big investment groups buy them up and flip the loans – selling them to someone else. They had a CBS special last night called “The Valley Under Water”.

I have a feeling that next year may be one of those “when push comes to shove” years. I think a lot of us are wondering what’s coming next. Things don’t look too rosy for “The Island of Lost Wages”.

27 08 2012

Well. Let’s hope that this storm coming in is nowhere near the force of Katrina. I was living in Austin at the time, and there were people evacuated all the way there.

12 03 2015

Thanks Scott — better late than never lol

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