Kathleen Koch’s Katrina story Journalist, Coast native to sign books downtown Wednesday

Published 12:05 am Thursday, August 5, 2010

A former CNN news correspondent and Mississippi Gulf Coast resident’s mission to not let her hometown be forgotten five years after the destruction of Hurricane Katrina has led to a book of vivid details, recounting the stories of those who went through the natural disaster.

Award-winning journalist Kathleen Koch, who grew up in Bay St. Louis and now lives in Maryland, has penned and released “Rising from Katrina: How My Mississippi Hometown Lost It All and Found What Mattered” just weeks before the fifth anniversary of the deadly and costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. She will be in Vicksburg Wednesday for a book-signing at Lorelei Books on Washington Street, as part of her 15-city tour.

“We’ll have an informal two-hour time frame during the lunch hour for customers,” said bookstore owner Laura Weeks who said she is excited to have Koch visit Vicksburg. “It will be informal so that customers can have some one-on-one time with the author.”

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“Rising from Katrina” chronicles the experiences of Koch and residents of Bay St. Louis before and after Hurricane Katrina made landfall Aug. 29, 2005.

“When I got the assignment to cover the hurricane, I had a gut feeling,” said Koch, who had been assigned to cover three hurricanes before. “I started a journal in my laptop. I carefully preserved everything and saved so much along the way. I also made a promise to the Second Street Elementary School shelter that I would not let anyone forget about Mississippi.”

After she received her assignment, she and a four-man crew headed for the Gulf Coast. They had made it to Mobile, Ala., when the Category 3 hurricane hit Mississippi; it had been downgraded from a Category 5, the highest on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale, the day before. They waited for the deadly storm to pass before continuing their journey.

Most of Koch’s family members had moved away from the coast, except her brother, who was living in Ocean Springs.

What she saw along the drive from Mobile was “striking,” she said. “There were so many stories to tell. I felt it wouldn’t be right to take it all to the grave with me.”

While writing the book, Koch said, her attachment to Mississippi became evident. All that was left of her childhood home on South Beach Boulevard was the concrete slab.

“It was very difficult,” Koch said. “I made the commitment to be entirely honest. Writing the book helped me come to terms with Katrina.”

Koch’s visit will usher in Katrina fifth anniversary events in Vicksburg.

On Aug. 21, the Southern Cultural Heritage Foundation and Lorelei Books will pre-sent “A Katrina Retrospect,” a program featuring artists and authors.

Local artist H.C. Porter and local photographer Melody Golding will display their works chronicling the hurricane’s aftermath. Also to attend are Ellis Anderson of Bay St. Louis, author of “Under Surge, Under Siege: The Odyssey of Bay St. Louis and Katrina,” for which Porter provided the cover art; New Orleans poet and author Toni Orrill; National Weather Service warning coordination meteorologist Stephen Wilkinson; and Mississippi College sociologist department chair Dr. Gary K. Mayfield.

The event is free and will include a panel discussion.