The horror of a catastophe such as hurricane Katrina is beyond comprehension. The trials and tribulation of fellow human beings dealing with personal tragedy is difficult to watch on television. The images in our newspapers are difficult to view as well.
The world sees these images due to the effort and courage of photojournalists who put themselves in harm's way to give a glimpse to the rest of the world. Tannen Maury, a staff photographer for the European Pressphoto Agency (EPA), was one of the journalists covering hurricane Katrina. Tannen experienced the storm and it's aftermath first hand.
Here is his story in words and photos...
I am Tannen Maury, a staff photographer for the European Pressphoto Agency and I am based in the Chicago area. I am also the Midwest manager for epa, overseeing and assigning events in the Midwest and the Southeast. I have been a professional news photographer for 25 years, 11 of those as the staff photographer for the AP in Jackson, Mississippi (thus my Southern connections). During my time in Jackson I covered a bunch of hurricanes and tropical storms on the Gulf Coast. Consequently, I know the area, the roads, and a lot of the people there. I also know where to go to survive a major storm and still be in position to cover the aftermath. This experience served me well covering Hurricane Katrina.
I started watching the NOAA satellite images of the storm after it passed over South Florida and enter the Gulf of Mexico as a Category 1 storm. Knowing how warm the Gulf waters are this time of year, I knew this storm had the potential to grow to at least Cat 3 in a short time. The NOAA images showed the storm was moving Southwest at a slow speed and projections called for a gradual turn to the Northwest, the North. This would bring it over the 90 degree water of the Gulf south of Mississippi and Louisiana where it would continue to suck up moisture and grow. On Thursday, Aug. 25th I called our photographer in Mobile, Ala., Dan Anderson, and put him on notice that epa was counting on him for storm coverage.
By Saturday morning the storm started to make its turn to the North. I knew it was time for me to begin making plans to chase it. I booked a flight on Southwest Airlines into Jackson, Mississippi for Sunday afternoon and reserved an SUV. I chose Jackson because it was far enough inland so that I did not have to worry about my flight being cancelled, and I would be in position to purchase the supplies I would need to get me through the period of electrical outages, no available water or food, and no gasoline.
By Sunday morning the storm was up to Cat 5, the most powerful on the scale. I packed my bags, including rain gear and chest waders, double checked my camera gear, and headed for the airport. I called Frank Polich, a freelance photographer for Reuters in Chicago and asked if he was going. He said he was thinking about it. I believe my call gave him the little shove he needed to commit to the trip. He booked in on the same flight I was taking and we met at the airport. I booked a room at a Holiday Inn in Gulfport, Mississippi, about 8 miles from the beach. I’ve stayed at this hotel in the past while covering other storm and knew it was the right place to be… close enough but not too close. I could avoid the storm surge there, but still be in and experience the full fury of the storm. I was also in constant communication with epa’s North American director, Gary Kemper. Dan Anderson was instructed to start shooting storm preparation photos and covering the evacuation from the coast. We also decided it was time to route Paul Buck from Dallas toward Baton Rouge and Matthew Cavanaugh from Washington D.C. to Gulfport. Paul was in Crawford, Texas covering President Bush’s vacation. He left to return to his home in Dallas to re-pack his gear and rent a car. Paul arrived in Baton Rouge early Monday morning where he rode out the storm in a parking garage. Matthew’s flight to Jackson, Mississippi was cancelled at the last minute and he flew through Charlotte, North Carolina (where is luggage was lost) into Huntsville, Alabama. He picked up a rental SUV there and started the long drive south. With all the roads into New Orleans switched to one way out, Paul and Matthew came to the Mississippi coast Monday night to cover the damage with me. Matthew managed to rent a plane in Mobile the next day for aerials. Paul began working in Long Beach, Mississippi where he had family.
I got into Jackson Sunday afternoon, loaded the rental car with my gear and
headed for the nearest Walmart. There I loaded up on water, granola and power
bars, canned tuna, canned fruit, and extra gas cans. I filled the gas cans and
headed South under clear skies.
As I approached the coast the skies began to cloud over. Gulfport is about a 2 and a half hour drive from Jackson. About 50 miles out the wind started to pick up and rain began falling as the outer bands of the storm began to come inland. I made a final stop for gas to top off the tank about 30 miles north of Gulfport the headed straight to the hotel. After checking in and securing my gear I got a bit of dinner and retired to my room for as much sleep as I could get. The rule in covering any kind of event like this is sleep whenever you get the chance because you may not get the change again for a very long time.
The power went out at the hotel around 5:30 Monday morning. The windows started to shatter around 8:30 A.M. and water was blowing in under the door as the wind picked up. I took shelter in the hotel lobby with Frank Polich and New York Times freelancer Erik Lesser. As daylight came, we could see all kinds of debris flying by in the 100+ mph winds, fences, roofs, signs, trees, huge sheets of sheet metal that could slice a body in half. I shot a few pictures of folks looking out the windows, then went outside where some people were trying to move from room to room, pelted by the wind and rain. Needless to say, nothing stays dry in this kind of weather. I then set up my laptop computer and worked up the image I had. My Verizon high speed internet card was still working at this time and I transmitted my pictures to epa’s ftp site in Frankfurt, Germany. This would be the last time my card worked in Gulfport/Biloxi for the next 3 days.
Around 12:30 P.M. the winds calmed a bit as the eye passed nearby. Then it started all over again, this time with the wind blowing 180 degrees from opposite of the way it had in the morning as we experienced the backside of the storm. Now all the debris that had flown past the windows right to left came back left to right. Car windows exploded form the force of the wind and the pressure created by it. A huge chunk of fence wrecked a CNN Surburban, smashing in the back and blowing out all the windows. I had parked my car on the North side of the building, in the rear where I thought it would be the most protected. I was right in my choice and the Ford Explorer came through fine although a bid covered in debris.
By 3:00 P.M. the wind was down to around 60 mph and we headed out to see what damage there was. It was shocking. Railroad crossing signals had blown over, entire fronts of building were gone, other buidings were gone alltogether. Glass was shattered everywhere. As we approached the coast it became evident that there would be little left of the beautiful homes that faced the Gulf. It was like a giant bulldozer had pushed everything back about 6 blocks. Steps led to nowhere, concrete slabs were all that remained of housed. Even the carpet that covered the floors was gone. Trees were down and hundreds of victims lay buried in the rubble of what had been their neightborhoods.
For the next three days I photographed the destruction and people returning to pick up the few pieces of their lives they could find. One elderly lady managed to fill a bucket with her possessions. Others were not so lucky and found only a plate, or picture, or book. All evidence of their lives and history had been blown away. Dan Anderson from Mobile covered that city and damage in Pascagoula and other points east of Biloxi.
Without power, I became totally dependent on my vehicle as my base of operation. I had electricity supplied though a 400 watt inverter that charged my camera batteries and kept my notebook computer running. My car became my office. Cell phones continued to work but service was spotty at best. We quickly found the few places where we could get a signal but even those changed day by day. We were up a the break of day shooting pictures by first light, then making a 3 hour drive to Mobile, Alabama where the nearest Verizon or Sprint data signal could be found to transmit our pictures. The trip, normally 45 minutes, required taking a detour because one of the I-10 bridges had been struck by a barge and would require replacing. By Thurday, Frank Polich, the Reuters photograher, had found a Sprint signal on top of a drawbridge in Biloxi. He was kind enough to transmit my photos and those of Erik Lesser of the New York Times. By Thursday, my Verizon signal was back but Frank’s Sprint signals was gone. I transmitted his pictures for him. We both assisted Erik Lesser of the New York Times in getting his pictures out as Erik had done for us the first day. Somehow my Cingular phone continued to work the whole time, although not in every location and not in data mode. I was able to talk to my family back in Chicago almost whenever I wanted by moving around until I found a signal then repeatedly dialing until I got through.
Our photographer in New Orleans, Sean Gardner, shot pictures of the evacuation and the beginning of the storm. His property took considerable damage from the storm and he needed to attend to it. On Wednesday we shifted Paul Buck and Matthew Cavanaugh to Baton Rouge for resupply with instructions to find a way into New Orleans the next morning. They were successful and their pictures were incredible. They managed to secure a room at a small motel about 20 miles from downtown. The manager was an associate of Paul’s cousin so we had an “in” with him. This became our New Orleans base of operation for the next week.
On Thursday I was resupplied in Gulfport by photograher Gary Rothstein who came in from Miami bringing fresh water, food and a satellite phone. We worked together in Biloxi on Friday when President Bush made a walking tour of the area and as a huge backhoe dug though the rubble of a colapsed hotel where bodies were recovered. Late Friday afternoon I called Dan Anderson and told him to beging covering all of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Gary Rothstein and I were headed first to Baton Rouge to resupply, then to New Orleans.
In Baton Rouge, we waited in line at a gas station only to have it run dry just before it was our time to fill up. Then it happened again. We finally filled our tanks and put an extra 70 gallons in gas cans in our cars at a Walmart station and headed to Luling, Louisiana to meet up with Paul Buck and Matthew Cavanaugh. Matthew was scheduled to return to Washington on Saturday to be in position to cover the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee John Roberts. Shawn Thew, the other D.C. staffer was scheduled to replace Matthew on Sunday. My time was short also, needing to get back to Chicago on Sunday or Monday. My wife is Cynthia Bowers, the Midwest correspondent for CBS News and she had been on the Mississippi Coast since Wednesday (although I had not seen her, our paths never crossed).
Early Saturday morning Paul, Gary and I headed into New Orleans. Accredited media was allowed through the checkpoints along with emergency personell. We made our way through the ghost town the West Bank of New Orleans had become, to the Convention Center that had become the gathering point for some 20,000 people who had been unable to escape the city. It was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen, like out of the movies in a third world country. Bodies lay covered on the street, people swealterd in the heat and filth. I never felt threatened, but welcomed by people who what their stories told. I had a job to do, make pictures, but I also wanted to spend as much time letting the people tell their tales. I think they felt better knowing somebody from the “outside” knew their troubles. These people thought that the quicker the pictures and stories got out the quicker help would arrive, which is the way it is supposed to work. Unfortunately, most of these people had been there for three or four days before food and water began to arrive. People were litterally dying on the street.
Around 9:30 A.M. the thump thump of helicoper roters could be heard as evacuation chopper began landing in a paking lot near the center. New Orleans paramedics began loading the sick, the very young and the elderly on the helicopters. They were flown to the New Orleans airport where they were treated and then place on military transport planes bound for Texas, Arkansaw, Utah, and other locations. About the same time lines of busses pulled up a couple of blocks from the center and people began lining up. They were finally getting out. The lines moved slowly but surely most of the day until every one who was able had departed. Left was only the dead and the garbage as evidence of the horror of their ordeal.
I returned to Chicago, flying out the same way I flew in, the next day. This was one of the most difficult assignments I’ve ever had. I was physically exhausted. But worse, and requiring a longer recovery time, I was mentally exhausted. I took a few days to decompress, hug my children, and preparing for my next assignment – covering the opening of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. I am also making contact with epa’s band of stringers throughout the Midwest to see who is available and willing to spend 8 to 10 days in New Orleans. This story will be with us for a long time.
A woman leans out the window of a bus to pray as other board to escape the downtown area of New Orleans, Louisiana after being stranded for days by Hurricane Katrina on Saturday, 3 September, 2005. Thousands of people are stranded in the downtown because of extensive flooding and power outages left by the storm.
John Volkman helps his wife Kathy seek shelter in a motel in Gulfport, Mississippi as Hurricane Katrina arrives on Monday, 29 August 2005. The storm is packing winds of 140 miles per hour as it makes landfall in Southern Louisiana. Extensive damage is expected all along the Mississippi and Louisiana coasts..
Richard Johnson sits stunned on the steps that are all that remain of a house in his neighborhood that was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in Biloxi, Mississippi on Thursday, 1 September 2005. The storm packed winds of 140 miles per hour as it made landfall in Southern Louisiana on Monday causing extensive damage and loss of life along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Hurricane Katrina victim Hyung Lo gathers belongings from what remains of his home in Biloxi, Mississippi on Friday, 2 September 2005. Most of the people in the storm's path have lost everything they owned and will have to start over from scratch.
An emergency technician offers water to a woman waiting to be loaded on a military helicopter and evacuated from the downtown area of New Orleans, Louisiana on Saturday, 3 September, 2005. Thousands of people are stranded in the downtown because of extensive flooding and power outages left by the storm.
People carry an elderly woman into an area where a military helicopter will evacuate her from the downtown area of New Orleans, Louisiana on Saturday, 3 September, 2005. Thousands of people are stranded in the downtown because of extensive flooding and power outages left by the storm.
Elderly and sick people wait for a military helicopter to land that will evacuate them from the downtown area of New Orleans, Louisiana on Saturday, 3 September, 2005. Thousands of people are stranded in the downtown because of extensive flooding and power outages left by the storm.
President George W. Bush hugs Debra Foster as he comforts her and her husband Charles as he visits with victims of Hurricane Katrina in Biloxi, Mississippi during a tour of devastated areas on Friday, 2 September 2005. The President came to the coast to assure people that help is on the way and they are not forgotten.