I’ve thought much about Hurricane Katrina over the past week. We all have numerous vivid memories of August 29, 2005 and the days, weeks and months that followed. No one will ever forget “that” smell. Jim Cantore still refers to it as the “smell of death”. No one will ever forget the complete and utter obliteration of our homes and our communities here on the coast. No one will forget the eerie silence several days and nights after the storm. Who could forget all the MREs we ate and the hummers dropping off ice and water? Who could forget the over 1 million volunteers who showed up over time to help us piece our lives back together? We all share some of the same memories and we all have some that are unique and special to each individual.
Hours before the storm while we were putting the finishing touches of hurricane prep on our house, my dad said, “we may get a little water, but it won’t be too bad.” Just a few hours later at my sister’s house where we’d “evacuated” across town, I heard him say, “I’ve never seen the water this high in Pascagoula.” I’ll never forget swimming through our old neighbors’ window to help them gather a few last minute items and then back out and giving the mother a piggyback ride through the rising waters. I’ll never forget the eerie drive back down Market Street to check on my parents’ home, nor the look on my mom and dad’s faces when we finally identified the mud hole where their home stood hours before. The only way we knew it was theirs was by finding my dad’s car spun around, hood down into a neighbor’s swimming pool.
As we surveyed the damage, my dad and I found a pole and worn flag in the rubble and stood it up in the mud where the front door used to be. A journalist later snapped a photo of that scene and it showed up in the Chicago Tribune. It was a perfect symbol of the resiliency we would soon see all across the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
I’ll never forget combing through the wreckage on one of the first days after the storm and hearing the roar of my friend Austin’s truck coming down Beach Blvd and pulling into our driveway. Austin had driven in from out of town and somehow weaved his way through the roadblocks, downed power lines and trees to come lend a hand. I also remember riding in his truck to Montgomery a few days after the storm as our family took a day to get away for supplies and to let my niece and nephew escape the wreckage for a couple hours of normalcy. On the way up I-65, as I watched what seemed like hundreds of utility trucks headed to the MS Gulf Coast, I shed my first tears.
I think the Lord used Austin’s arrival and the sight of those utility trucks to gently remind me that He was still in control and everything would be just fine. Sure, it’d take many a long day and night and a ton of hard work, but our family was intact and none of us were afraid to get dirty.
I had closed on my house the Thursday before Katrina hit, so everything I owned leaving law school was at my parents’ house (other than what I’d packed the day before the storm – one suit, a change of clothes and all of my guns and fishing poles). For this reason, sifting through the wreckage became somewhat of a “treasure” hunt. One of my first finds was my high school class ring that had buried itself in the mud under my old room. I found polos wrapped in trees, shorts in bushes and my Wolverine boots about 500 yards north on a couch. I found one of our TVs a couple hundred yards north, but I was pretty sure it was toast. We found some of my mom’s china unscratched and intact as it had sifted down through the flood waters into the mud.
We found some great memories, that’s for sure. My favorite find was a Christmas ornament I’d made for my mom in kindergarten. It and most of our Christmas ornaments were in a Rubbermaid container, with the lid still on, about 1,500 yards northwest of my parents’ mud hole.
I could share thousands of memories from Katrina, as all of us from South Mississippi could. We learned many valuable lessons, none more important than the value of faith, family and good friends. As these past 10 years have come and gone, I’ve watched a resilient people show the world how to get back up on your feet after being pummeled. Mississippians have done so with class, grace, hospitality to our million plus volunteers, grit, determination, vision and hard work. Not only have we stood back up on our feet, but we’ve come back bigger and better. Never have I been more proud to be a Mississippian.