Life after the hurricane
By Gregory Favre - Guest Column
Sept. 11, 2017 at 4:21 p.m.
Updated Sept. 12, 2017 at 6 a.m.
It was four short words that I will never forget. Nor would tens of thousands of others.
"Your city is gone."
Four words spoken by a photographer that would serve as an obituary for city after city on the Mississippi Gulf Coast as Katrina washed away building after building.
Four words that represented 24 hours of destruction, 24 hours that changed the face of tomorrow, 24 hours that turned memories of past joy into present day nightmares.
That was 12 years ago, and my hometown Bay St. Louis was gone.
I was thousands of miles away when Katrina struck with all of her might, sending a 22-foot wall of water over the seawall. Brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, cousins and friends were in her path.
A massive water surge, never witnessed before, leaving slabs of randomly tossed concrete, some with an occasional tile struggling to hang on, clothes eerily hanging from trees, remains of homes pock marking the land as if they were millions of Lego pieces, drowned cars strewn like Hot Wheels on the roadsides, lonely stairs that led to nowhere. And, most of all, the dead.
Like people across the land, I needed to be able to grasp the magnitude of what was happening, to see the faces and hear the stories of heroes who were saving lives. I needed to share my fears with strangers in a communion of feeling.
I needed trusted sources to provide an island of factual news and information in an ocean of rumors. We all needed a place to come together.
And, like so many, I found that place in the digital sites of the New Orleans Times Picayune and the Biloxi Sun-Herald.
Those journalists gave us a place to come together, even though many of them, as well as colleagues who made the machinery work, had no place to return to, no clothes to change into, no time to shed their own tears.
The same things happened during Harvey, whether it was at the Victoria Advocate or the Houston Chronicle or TV and radio stations or other local outlets serving the water-covered communities.
And now journalists across Florida are doing the same thing, getting up close and personal with another one of the largest natural disasters in our history. They will, as their counterparts did in Texas, tell the story so people can share the pain of the known and the fear of the unknown.
In Victoria or Naples, in Houston or Tampa, in big or small cities, Harvey and Irma have left grieving people across Texas and Florida and on the devastated islands in the Atlantic asking the question, "What about tomorrow?"
What was normal is no longer. There is only a new normal to build together. There is a lot of healing to be done. There are the many memories of Harvey and Irma's ugly images to deal with.
What will normal be? The question asked after Katrina was "Will our common ending be that we are still standing together?"
There are more sacrifices needed, more waves of anxiety left to be calmed, more bridges of agreement to be built across the many gulfs of different opinions about what needs to be done. And there are the funerals for the dead.
This story will continue to be written for years. And the men and women, who provided those needed lifelines in the midst of the storms, when people desperately needed them the most, will continue to be the authors, the storytellers on all platforms.
And they will be there to tell of the generosity and goodness of those who come to help.
I witnessed this incredibly generous spirit after Katrina. Hundreds came in person, carrying their chain saws and hauling their backhoes and pledging their commitment to do what they could for people they had never met and would probably never see again.
That is what good neighbors do, especially when so many have been left with shattered hearts.
My hometown was gone. But it has been reborn. Others will do the same and the stories will continue to be told.
Gregory Favre is a member of the board of M. Roberts Media and is the retired vice president of news for The McClatchy Company. He has a brother and nieces and nephews living in Houston and Longview.