Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind: The Continuing Saga Of Hurricane Katrina
In the past two weeks Alex and I have driven along the Gulf of Mexico from Montgomery, Alabama to San Antonio, Texas and back. We were struck not so much by the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, but by the continued devastation. There have been three major hurricanes since Hurricane Katrina hit in late August: Ophelia, Rita, and Wilma. And while it has been legitimate for the media to switch their attention to these new natural disasters, a perhaps unintended consequence is that most Americans, not directly affected by Katrina, have assumed that unless an area was just "re-hit" by Wilma, everything's "O.K. down there." To most, it's old news.
Wednesday morning, returning to Montgomery from San Antonio on Interstate 10, the car we were traveling in broke down just miles inside the Louisiana/Mississippi border. After a call to AAA and an hour wait, a tow truck arrived to take us to the nearest car shop. As we exited Interstate 10 and as the drive progressed, we were all struck by the distinct lack of cars on the freeway. Then we began to see them, but they weren't on the road; they were in the grass, trees, and debris that lined it. Our driver explained that we were at "ground zero" of Hurricane Katrina, "200 people died there, they're still finding bodies," he said, pointing to a demolished mobile homes park. "16 feet of water came through here," he explained. "100 percent of houses in this area are unlivable. Only four places [in the nearest city], to my knowledge, are open for business. I guess the shop where AAA told me to take you just opened." As we drove into town, Waveland, Mississippi, his prediction proved incorrect. Winstead Automotive was a shell, almost completed gutted.
All of us were shocked. We simply had not realized the enduring devastation that remained stark reality to Louisiana and Mississippi citizens. In God's providence, there was another car shop, which miraculously was open, just up the freeway. As we sat in the shop's office, surrounded by packages of government issued rations and canned drinking water, we were profoundly struck by how easily we had let the circumstances surrounding our fellow Americans fade completely from our minds.
This realization was compounded when we began feeling another sensation: hunger. We hadn't had breakfast, and it was nearly lunchtime. Normally this would be a no-brainer: just run out to Taco Bell. Not so easy. Taco Bell was closed and boarded. So was McDonalds, Jack In The Box, and every other restuarant in the area. So were all the grocery stores.
Well, you might think, just grab some snacks at a gas station. Forget it. All three gas stations were in pieces. They were a wreck. Not only were they useless for food, they were useless for gas too. In fact, we were told that residents had to drive over 50 miles to get gas. There were only two places in the entire city to get food: the FEMA tent with emergency food packs and a lone Sonic restaurant that had just opened a few days before.
We quickly learned that not only was food scarce (at least, food variety was scarce) but most places were still waiting to get running water! We decided to snack on some granola bars while waiting to get an estimate on car repair. In the meantime we looked into renting a car, only to find that there was a four-week waiting period to rent a car! We learned that hundreds of thousands of cars were wrecked or damaged by Hurricane Katrina and so nearly every working car in the area was rented.
Providentially the problem with our car was minor and we were able to proceed with our trip after only three hours at Ground Zero. But those three hours dramatically transformed our compassion and concern for our fellow Americans in ravaged areas.
In a seeming “final nail in the coffin” we were unable to pay for the car repair with credit card (they can’t process them down there) and none of us had a checkbook, so we had to drive around the city for nearly an hour just to find a working ATM machine.
As we continued our road trip, pictures of devastation reduced from “constant” to “frequent” and then “rare.” Through it all we were snapping pictures in hopes of communicating to our readers the sheer magnitude of the continued devastation.
We have chosen some of the most “telling” pictures and posted them here. We ask that if you were similarly unaware of the ongoing struggle down at Hurricane Katrina’s Ground Zero that you will help spread the message by directing others here, to read this cover post and to view the pictures. They say a picture’s worth a thousand words. We hope these pictures will speak to your heart. To view them click here.