A dozen years later, memories still fresh

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Twelve years ago today, I was sitting at my brother’s home looking at the devastation that had just taken place over the previous 24 hours. By the standards that I would see in the days a head, we had been very lucky.

Before Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Mississippi Gulf Coast, I decided I would ride out the storm with my brother and parents 12 miles inland in Harrison County. It didn’t look to be that dangerous of a storm on Saturday, Aug. 27, as I worked the news and sports desk of the Picayune Item, finishing up the Sunday edition. The latest forecast was the hurricane would be a Category 1. But by Sunday, the storm had increased in intensity and roared ashore near the Pearl River as a Category 3 on Monday, Aug. 29, 2005.

We knew the storm surge and flooding would not be an issue for us, but the tornadoes that came through that night and the destruction they left behind were evident by daybreak.

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My brother’s new two-story pole-barn was flattened and his fifth-wheel 30-plus foot travel trailer lay on its side. His home was intact, as was my parents’ home next door. Electricity, of course, was out and we were using a generator.

From the images we could see on TV, our family was blessed.

A TV helicopter flew along the Mississippi Coast line and the massive amount of devastation was incredible. It seemed everything inland for two miles was obliterated. The two bridges that connect the Mississippi Coast along Highway 90 were in ruins and that’s when I knew the place I had called home since 1978 would no longer be the same.

Later that day, images of the levees giving way in New Orleans and the surge of water that rushed into the city began to dominate the news, with helicopters seen plucking people who had survived from the water and rooftops.

At the time, it seemed the Apocalypse was upon us.

Like so many others, we used what fuel we had to get what supplies we could — mainly ice. You would be surprised how dependent you can be on something like ice.

We also tried to track down our friends and families who also rode the storm out. It was nearly a week before I made contact with my then 10-year old daughter who hunkered down with her mother and brother north of Biloxi. That anguish of not knowing how they were was painful. I finally reached her via a satellite phone to find out that she was fine.

My other brother and his family were two blocks off the beach and their home was destroyed, but fortunately, they had evacuated and were also well.

It took me more than four hours to maneuver my way back to Picayune on a drive that normally takes 45 minutes. For the next three weeks, living at the Picayune Item would be my home as the staff pulled together to produce some incredible editions of the newspaper. We forged a bond together that still remains strong to this day.

Today, like many of you, I have been watching the scenes from south Texas and the Houston area and feel the pain, anguish, despair and hopelessness that many of them are dealing with from Hurricane Harvey. It brings back some awful memories from over a decade ago.

I can say with certainty that it will get better, but their lives and some areas will never be the same.

Rob Sigler is editor of The Vicksburg Post. You may reach him at rob.sigler@vicksburgpost.com. Readers are invited to submit their opinions for publication.