Today in media history: Reporting the tragic story of Hurricane Katrina

On August 24, 2005, a tropical storm is given the name Katrina. It hits Florida and after growing in the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Katrina makes landfall 60 miles southeast of New Orleans on the morning of August 29th.

(Video from National Geographic: “Hurricane Katrina Day by Day”)

The New Orleans Times-Picayune and the Biloxi-Gulfport Mississippi Sun Herald are awarded a Pulitzer Prize for their coverage.

September 1, 2005

An excerpt from a story in the Sun Herald:

Frustration at slow emergency response grows on Mississippi coast
By Scott Dodd

“BILOXI — Overwhelming need gripped the Mississippi Coast two days after Hurricane Katrina dealt the region a devastating blow.

In the hardest-hit areas, where hundreds of people lost their homes, cars and everything they own, parents wandered the streets Wednesday begging for water for their babies, and local officials grew frustrated at the slow response.

‘We’re not getting any help yet,’ said Biloxi Fire Department Battalion Chief Joe Boney. ‘We need water. We need ice. I’ve been told it’s coming, but we’ve got people in shelters who haven’t had a drink since the storm.’

Disaster officials said they were mobilizing the largest aid effort in the nation’s history to help the communities hit by Katrina.”

(Sun Herald, September 1, 2005, Newseum Image)

(Sun Herald, September 1, 2005, Newseum Image)

(Times-Picayune, September 1, 2005, Image from the newspaper's website)

(Times-Picayune, September 1, 2005, Image from the newspaper’s website)


(Video: “WDSU’s Hurricane Katrina Coverage”)

An excerpt from a story in the Times-Picayune:

Nightmare in the 9th Ward all too real for one woman
By Trymaine D. Lee

“Lucrece Phillips’ sleepless nights are filled with the images of dead babies and women, and young and old men with tattered T-shirts or graying temples, all of whom she saw floating along the streets of the Lower 9th Ward.

The deaths of many of her neighbors who chose to brave the hurricane from behind the walls of their Painter Street homes shook tears from Phillips’ bloodshot eyes Tuesday, as a harrowing tale of death and survival tumbled from her lips.

‘The rescuers in the boats that picked us up had to push the bodies back with sticks,’ Phillips said sobbing. ‘And there was this little baby. She looked so perfect and so beautiful. I just wanted to scoop her up and breathe life back into her little lungs. She wasn’t bloated or anything, just perfect.’

A few hours after Phillips, 42, and five members of her family and a friend had been rescued from the attic of her second-story home in the 2700 block of Painter Street, she broke down with a range of emotions. Joy, for surviving the killer floods; pain, for the loss of so many lives; and uncertainty, about the well-being of her family missing in the city’s most ravaged quarters.”

(Video: “The duPont Talks: Tom Brokaw & Brian Williams on Covering Katrina”)

August 28, 2010
An excerpt from an editorial in the Sun Herald:

The Coast’s recovery has been historic, but Katrina is not yet history.

“Before dawn on Aug. 29, 2005, the Coast began to lose power. By daybreak, the outages would extend far inland. But for those who were here, and as those who quickly came here to assist soon appreciated, the Coast never adopted an attitude of powerlessness.

Hurricane Katrina was unprecedented; while its winds kept the storm at a moderate level, its storm surge shattered all notions of what could and would not be flooded by waters from the Gulf of Mexico.

Amid the abysmal destruction, there was understandable despair. But there was also the immediate undertaking of repair and restoration.

Now, five years later, the extent of this region’s recovery has a depth and breath of historic dimensions. It too is unprecedented.

Not that Katrina is history. It’s consequences continue to shape private lives and influence public policy.

But it is no longer excusable to use it as an excuse for faults or flaws that need to be corrected, in either our homes or our businesses or our government offices.

For all its epic aspects, Katrina yielded to the strong arms and hearts of residents and volunteers alike.”

(Sun Herald, August 30, 2010, Newseum Image)

(Sun Herald, August 30, 2010, Newseum Image)

Related Resources

Poynter hurricane coverage stories (2003 – present).

Reporting Katrina.”
Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project, Sep. 11, 2005.

Hurricane Katrina.”
Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma.

Katrina and Beyond.”
NPR.

After Katrina, the Jazzman Plays On.”
By Anne Hull, Washington Post, Jan. 30, 2006.

Swipe the photos and see Hurricane Katrina disaster dissolve into present-day recovery.”
Times-Picayune, Aug. 25, 2014.

(Video: Hurricane Katrina Aftermath: In the Shadow | Retro Report | The New York Times)

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