Cecil was one of the first people I met on a trip down to the Gulf Coast after Katrina had hit ten days before. Ceil was working on his parents yard and house, as most of their pine trees had fallen, some of them into the house causing damage. When the volunteer crew with chainsaws and Bobcats pulled up in the front yard to begin the work of clean-up and he learned that it was all going to be done without charge, Cecil cried. I was interviewing him for a documentary to be made in hopes of raising additional funds to pay for the efforts being made.
I met Claude through another mission work on the Gulf in the city of Pearlington, a town that had been totally wiped out by a 35 foot high wall of water that day. Claude had lost everything he owned. He and his wife and some neighbors had been able to climb up into a neighbor’s attic to escape the flood. With the house ready to fall, a loose boat came floating by, which Claude swam to and dragged back to the attic window where he managed to load all six people into safely. He was also an interviewee in our film Victims of Katrina.
It was the Russ’ house that Claude and his wife Cookie had sought shelter in, only to have it come apart during the storm. Nancy and her husband Charles had abandoned the house and left for higher ground the day before Katrina hit. The Russ’’ lost most everything that was in their home as well. She spoke on camera in her interview of the ceramic knick-knacks that her students had given her during her 35 years of teaching in the Mississippi public schools. It was her greatest loss, she said.
Joan’s interview may be the best interview we have ever filmed. We sat with camera rolling for more than 45 minutes listening to her story, tearing up every once in a while as she told of the losses she had experienced. Joan is a psychiatric nurse and actress in a local group. Her style and grace were unequaled as she told her story of the days surrounding the Katrina tragedy. She was evacuated with her charges in the hospital and not given the chance to return to her house until a month afterwards. All was lost. She was so grateful for the materials that IDES had provided in rebuilding her home and the workers that came to volunteer, especially the little Amish girl from Pennsylvania who insisted on cleaning out the fireplace. We all cried. Joan still says her biggest loss was all her shoes!
Long Beach Home
Cecil’s bother, Kirk, took the MissionFOTO crew on a tour of Long Beach and Gulfport. In Gulfport, we visited his brother-in-laws house where we found that 7 ½ feet of Gulf water had invaded their home, destroying nearly the entire building and all the contents. The family photos had been placed in a closet on a shelf…a shelf only 6 feet above the floor! In Long Beach, he took us to his sister’s home where only the slab floor was remaining. The building and contents were broken and twisted two blocks away along the railroad tracks. The nephew’s piano lay in the street crumpled a block away.
Long Beach Resident
The day we toured Long Beach, Cecil’s wife was busy picking through a neighbor’s fireplace looking for mementos from her sister-in-law’s home that had been washed away. She felt that maybe some of the family heirlooms might have been caught in the neighbor’s fireplace in the flood. Before we left, she had found a gold locket that belonged to the grandmother.
New Orleans Mother
We were in New Orleans East shooting another film about Katrina’s devastation, when we turned up one of the streets adjacent to a large church and found a family going through what was left of their house. Only three years old, the house was a loss, as water had stood in the main level for a month decaying all. Everything they owned had to be piled up in the front yard for disposal. The daughter took me to her room and showed me the animals that had been painted on the walls. She didn’t want to leave her room.
Gulfport Waffle House
After Katrina had hit, I entered Gulfport for the first time down the street next to a Waffle House restaurant. I couldn’t tell what else had been there, as most everything had been shoved back two blocks by the tidal wave. It was a good bet that it had been a Waffle House. For 200 miles along the coast, the scene did not change. A salvager pick me up in his 4 wheel drive truck, seeing I had a camera, and drove me down the coast a ways to show me a casino that had been floating out in the Gulf 10 days before. I asked how they were going to move it back into the water and he said they was not sure, as there was not enough power available on the planet to move the monster four story steel structure out of the roadway.