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The memories of Katrina still remain 15 years later

The screensaver on my computer’s desktop is a photo of a large, circular mass of clouds covering the northern Gulf of Mexico, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas and several other states.

That photo is a satellite image of Hurricane Katrina taken about a day before it made landfall on the Mississippi Gulf Coast as a Category 3 storm, battering the Coast with 127 mph-plus winds and a storm surge that hit some areas with an almost 30-foot wall of water.

As the impact of Hurricane Laura’s Thursday landfall along the Louisiana coast is just now being realized, I think about that photo on my desktop and remember that 15 years ago this Saturday my life and the lives of my wife and daughter were forever changed. Alan Jackson in 2001 wrote a song about 9/11 called “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning.”

Monday, Aug. 29, 2005, our world stopped turning.

Like other momentous events, people who live on the Gulf Coast or who lived there when Katrina hit remember where they were that day. I was in the Jackson County Emergency Management Agency Operations Center and later in the Jackson County Courthouse with many others watching the storm surge swallow our cars and having no idea what was happening at my own home.

It’s strange the things you remember during a disaster; I remember as the surge rose, it set off every car alarm in the courthouse parking lot. My wife and daughter were in a hotel room in Atmore, Ala., watching the wind, the rain and tornadoes.

I also remember sitting in the EOC at 5 a.m. Monday watching the radar and seeing Katrina turn east and move toward the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

I was with The Mississippi Press at the time, and the night of the storm we negotiated the debris on U.S. 90 to get to our sister paper in Mobile, Ala. to publish a Tuesday edition about the storm. We continued to publish a paper every day.

Tuesday morning, I got a ride from a co-worker to check our homes. His was destroyed. My home took 4½ feet of water and sections of the roof were ripped off to the plywood. I walked inside and saw the surge moved everything in the house.

Our privacy fence was broken in several places and we had our neighbor’s boat in our backyard. Our clothes and other items were ruined, but we had two things some people didn’t have — our lives and toilet paper.

We left and went to Baton Rouge, and I returned to work on the Coast a few days later. I say returned to work; I stayed in contact with the paper and mother-in-law’s kitchen table became The Mississippi Press Baton Rouge Bureau as I used my cell phone to contact people and call in stories.

We continued cleaning our house until one day my wife told me she wanted to move. We sold our house and left the Coast.

We often wonder “what if?” and talk about what we would have done had we stayed.

But there is one thing we know — for us, Katrina is a memory that will never leave.

John Surratt is a staff writer for The Vicksburg Post. He can be reached at john.surratt@vicksburgpost.com.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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