For Katrina we had manned a shelter in a school approximately 10 mi north of the coast (Mississippi Hancock / Harrison Counties), we had upwards of 380 persons with food and supplies for 40. People came in at 1 am Monday looking for help getting their families out of harms way, the water was rising rapidly. People hanging from trees on roof tops, clinging on to boats found adrift and whatever would float, our vehicles taking on water from the 14 ft waves pounding us, all glass in our vehicles blown out. It was time to take cover, we lost part of the roof and water started to come in to the shelter, we saw school buses overturn and hundred year old oaks uprooted and toppled, homes and cars carried by the water. After the storm, we continued the task of search, rescue, the devastation was incredible, pictures, and words do not come close to describing the surreal scenes the smells, the heat, the pain and suffering. We had no water, no food and it was Wednesday still no signs of help, we wandered if they had forgotten us. By Friday afternoon we saw relief in the form of Florida task force who relieved us from our search and rescue work, still people roamed the streets like zombies, lost, confused, hungry and tired, supplies were starting to trickle in.
By Saturday morning we made our way towards our home, dodging boats, sofas, refrigerators, overturned cars, houses all this on interstate 10, 10 miles from the beach, towns and communities left in rubble and covered in mud. There were no landmarks left and we had a difficult time finding our way home. We arrived only to find we had been spared, the house was there, flooded but there. God, there is nothing left NOTHING. We managed to get some supplies from our attic and set up a mobile clinic and continued the grim task of search and rescue. After 3 weeks we were tired, mentally and emotionally drained, many areas still had received no aid, we had cardiac patients with out medication, we had no oxygen, no insulin my God have we been forgotten, where is everyone that is supposed to help us?
A week after the storm hit we had our first glimpse of the event on the national TV news, only then did we realize Katrina's fury was unleashed on our county; the eye had gone right over us. I guess we did not realize just how bad it was, but when we saw the Mexican Navy helping clear the roads to reach victims, and a Dutch Navy helicopter dropping us supplies, we knew we were in deep caca. We still wander the streets and try to make sense of the whole event, but the destruction and suffering is devastating. Every where you look there remain signs of the awesome power of a 45 ft wall of water with 14 to 16 ft waves on top, that reached upwards of 12 to 15 miles from the coast propelled by 160 mph winds.
If this sounds like rambling, well I am still trying to fully digest the events that unfolded in the past months, this is the condensed version. Then there was Rita ... I cannot remember, Oh yes, that is when FEMA and the Red Cross left for three days. We still have hundreds living in tents, shelters and what ever remains of their homes, no jobs, no money, no gas, and no power no home ... Wow! The local hospital was destroyed and in its place, we have a MASH unit in the Kmart parking lot... and then comes the road to recovery, its going to be a long one.
So where were we when Katrina struck? We are accustomed to arrive after the disaster to render aid, to be in control, not the victims/survivors of Mother Nature’s wrath.
I've been going down to the beach and wandering around the Bay with my cameras, photography is my therapeutic activity, my challenge is to make an image where I show what I see and feel, and so far I'm failing miserably. I do not believe images can ever come close to revealing the fury of Katrina and her aftermath. Most of the time I do not even snap a single shot, I just try to take it all in and figure it out.
It is a metamorphosis of the area and its people after experiencing one of the greatest furies that nature can unleash. We are active participants with front row seats, something few have experienced and lived to talk about. Try and put all that in an image.
We have worked many post disasters and war torn areas, and have learned to deal with the effects on our physical and mental health, but this one is going to take allot more film. It is a bit different when you are on the receiving end of the equation. Thank you for listening.
We will be eternally grateful to all of you who heard our cry and were there when we most needed you. You all were the true angels of mercy and you helped get us through the most difficult times.
The question remains, who takes care of the caretakers?