Last week, Mississippians remembered Hurricane Katrina on the thirteenth anniversary of the massive storm’s slow march up the length of our state. Considered the most destructive natural disaster in our nation’s history, it sparked a series of recovery efforts that would be measured in days, weeks, months and years. Thousands of lives would be interrupted, many drastically so. Some for only a brief time, some permanently.
While clean-up of the millions of tons of debris left in Katrina’s wake seemed like an effort that would take many years, much of it was accomplished at an astonishing rate. On the surface, a sense of normality crept in and with it, an alleviation of the emotional and mental stress such disasters visit upon the survivors. Feelings of hopelessness, depression and despair are not forgotten, but hard to convey years later.
To fully recall those stressful emotions, revisiting the interviews of first-responders conducted in the days that followed is helpful. In those recordings, the raw angst can be heard in a way not possible with the written word. For this episode, we turn to an in-the-moment account of a key decision maker in the South Mississippi relief effort: Barbra K. "Babs" Faulk.
As Director of the South-Central Mississippi Chapter of the American Red Cross, Babs Faulk coordinated the relief agency’s response to Hurricane Katrina. In the aftermath, the Red Cross served over half a million meals to those in need. Faulk discusses the agency's response and the importance of volunteers to the relief effort.
In this interview, conducted just two months after the storm, she recalls how they prepared to meet the challenge. As the head quarter's phones constantly drone in the background, the weariness and heartache of the previous eight weeks is unmistakable as she shoulders the blame for those they couldn't help.
The ferocity and devastation of Hurricane Katrina caught many Mississippians by surprise. Faulk’s frustration with the often lackadaisical response of many to impending disasters is apparent as she emphasizes the importance of hurricane preparedness and personal responsibility.
The disruption caused by the storm took an emotional toll on the survivors, but also on the relief workers and first-responders, themselves. Faulk reflects on the need for mental health workers and the long journey to recovery that lay before them in November 2005.
In August of 2005, Angelia Gray was the Food and Beverage Director of a Hattiesburg hotel. In this episode, she explains how she and the rest of the hotel staff prepared for the arrival of Hurricane Katrina as the hotel began to fill up with evacuees. Gray recalls riding out the storm and caring for their guests.
After Katrina was over, Gray had to cook for the all the guests. She explains how she was able to feed so many people without electricity or water.
Of that experience, Gray remembers the spirit of cooperation among most of the guests and the bad behavior of a few.