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Aug 31, 2010
Category:News Hurricane Katrina - The Photos, The People, and The Stories Behind Them. In the News 
Posted by: Jessica

Thanks to the great people at The Publicity Agency, specifically Director of Publicity and News Justin Herndon, I was able to share my story of Hurricane Katrina coverage with Tampa Bay.

I was interview by 10 News reporter Kathryn Bursch, ABC Action News reporter Jeff Butera and Fox 13 anchor Ann Dwyer. It was an honor to be interviewed and I hope I gave some insight into how covering a major hurricane looks from a photojournalist’s point of view.

If you missed the blog series and would to like read personal journal entries, see unpublished photos or leave a comment, please click here.


(CBS) 10 News interview:




Fox 13 Good Day interview:



ABC Action News interview:




Aug 29, 2010
Category:News Hurricane Katrina - The Photos, The People, and The Stories Behind Them. Behind the Scenes In the News 
Posted by: Jessica

There’s always a time during a disaster when feelings start to switch from desperation and chaos to generosity and normalcy.

I drove to a huge fire on Royal Street a week after Katrina hit and found that firefighters from New York were helping their NOLA brothers in need. They were all working harmoniously, even without standard fire hydrants available. Helicopters dropped tons of water on top of the blaze to keep it from spreading. No one was panicked—everyone knew they had a job to do and it didn’t matter that they weren’t on duty or that they weren’t in their home town. That’s a sign of good things to come.

Then I met Ed Garcia from Port St. Lucie, Florida. He rented a U-Haul with two friends, gathered $8,000 of their personal money and bought as much food and water as they could. They drove to Lacombe, Louisiana where no government help had arrived yet. The sight of a U-Haul truck filled with supplies was a sign that maybe someone did care about them. Maybe someone was trying to help, even if that help was offered by strangers from south Florida.

September 4, 2005 journal entry:

“I was sent out on a mission today to go to the shelter at LSU to see seven kids (coincidentally named the Love family) who are being flown to San Antonio, Texas to be reunited with their parents. There’s a mile of red tape getting into this shelter because there are medical patients and kids involved. A guard escorts us to the parking lot where the volunteers are saying goodbye to the kids as they load into a van. I’m so glad I caught them when I did! The volunteers were having a hard time letting go, as were the children. They were together for a week while the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children tried to locate their parents. What amazed me about the Love family was that there were seven children under ten years old and they stuck together, found shelter, told an adult what happened and got out alive. That’s perseverance.”

The best sign of normalcy I found was when I stumbled upon Johnny White’s Sports Bar and Grill on Bourbon Street a week after Katrina made landfall. I walked in to find the bar buzzing with activity and a bartender behind the bar taking drink orders. Francis (the Times reporter) and I looked at each other like “Really?” We started talking to patrons with bandages on their hands and head who were ordering shots of Southern Comfort like it was a Friday night happy hour. And a 14-year-old cardboard sign was still taped behind the bar that read "Never Closed."

Even though I couldn’t imagine drinking alcohol at a time like that when I had lost everything, I understood the need for normalcy. Only two bars were open on Bourbon Street by then but locals were flocking to them, just to get a taste of what they knew to be real. If ordering a round of shots for your friends helps you heal, I’m all for it.

Throughout this Hurricane Katrina blog series, I’ve tried to remember the good, the bad and the ugly. I wrote this blog so people don’t forget. Just like journalists that covered 9-11 or the Tennessee floods or the BP oil spill want to bring awareness, so do I. I hope that by reading this blog, you’ve gained a new perspective on the victims, the journalists and the recovery process.

If you feel moved to help but cannot make it out to New Orleans personally, you can always make a monetary donation. I believe in donating to well-established organizations and doing your homework first before giving away your hard-earned money. The Red Cross and The Salvation Army are always accepting donations and if you want to check on a charity before donating, look them up here.

But of course, the best way to give back is to go visit "Nawlins"...grab a coffee at Cafe Du Monde, watch a Saints game at the Superdome or join in on the Mardi Gras fun.

Aug 28, 2010
Category:News Hurricane Katrina - The Photos, The People, and The Stories Behind Them. Behind the Scenes In the News 
Posted by: Jessica

The success of a disaster aftermath is usually determined by the response of rescue crews, volunteers and the government.

Seeing locals standing in the rain for hours on Interstate 10 at a temporary staging area was difficult. They waited for hours, sometimes all day to catch a ride on a bus headed to a shelter. They didn’t know where they were going but they knew any other place had to be better than here.

One of the uplifting parts of covering a tragedy like Hurricane Katrina is seeing all the good that comes out of a community. Rescue crews were organized and determined to get to help to as many people as possible. Most were also kind to the media by allowing reporters and photographers to do “ride-alongs” in helicopters and boats to assess the damage and talk with victims.

Volunteer Reggie Seals is a man I’ll never forget. Not only did he take me out on a boat (that I was technically not supposed to be on) but he also gave me a level of protection I didn’t know I needed. He said he would treat me like one of his daughters and make sure I got back safely.

September 5, 2005 journal entry:

“I’m not quite sure I’m going to make it through this week without losing my mind. I’m out on a boat in the middle of nowhere, breathing exhaust fumes, waiting for a rescue crew to take us out to see the damage in the worst areas. I’m hungry and I’m tired but at least I’m safe. Reggie is our boat driver and as we head out, he tells Francis [the Times reporter], ‘Don’t worry, I’ll protect Jessica’. Reggie brought gloves, masks and a gun. Fantastic! I feel a little fearful that he thinks we need that.”

“As Reggie [a rescue volunteer] drives our boat towards the Ninth Ward, we meet up with another rescue crew that just is leaving the area. They said they searched for people stranded on their roofs but only found bodies floating in the water and angry, desperate people. I immediately said I wanted to go in and take some shots. One of the men in the boat took me aside and said he could not, in good conscience, let me go. He said if I went in, I’d come out a changed person. I was a little surprised by his chivalrous speech so I asked him to explain. He said people left in the Ninth Ward are armed and attempting to take over any boats that come into their neighborhood. He was afraid for me, being a young woman, that I may not make it back out…

…I have no clue what I would have found if I got to enter the Ninth Ward. I do know I have that man to thank for talking sense into me and reminding me that no photograph is worth my life.”

Aug 27, 2010
Category:News Hurricane Katrina - The Photos, The People, and The Stories Behind Them. Behind the Scenes In the News 
Posted by: Jessica

The only flooding I’ve ever witnessed was about knee-deep.

When I saw some people wading through waist-deep water with bags of belongings thrown on their backs, I wondered what they brought with them. What was important enough to carry all that way?

When I went out on rescue boats, I was amazed to see that the water levels came up to street signs and the top of homes. I finally understood why residents were cutting holes in their roofs to escape.

As I was shooting photos of people wading through water looking for dry land, I saw two men pulling a canoe with an elderly man inside. I met Leroy, 78, who was being helped by two relatives. They were desperately seeking medical attention for his Diabetes. He had no insulin and needed his dosage. I felt so sorry for the weak man who wasn’t even asking for water or food but insulin. He eventually found a volunteer who was using his personal truck to give rides to refugees. And he was on his way to a medical shelter.

Businesses and homes alike were damaged, some destroyed beyond recognition. Some places had items taken by wind and rain clear across a neighborhood. Barstools and tires from who knows where were strewn across what was once a busy trolley track.

Homemade signs about surviving Katrina or needing help were hung up anywhere they would stick.

Approximately $80 billion in damage was done to 200,000 homes in New Orleans leaving 800,000 people displaced at some point. Those numbers are staggering.

Two days after Katrina hit, 80% of New Orleans was flooded and some places were 15 feet under water. The storm supposedly caused 50 breaches in levees, built by the United States Army Corps of Engineers.

September 1, 2005 journal entry:

“We heard the ‘N Word’ for the first time today and it probably won’t be the last. Some residents are upset because they think black looters are taking over the city. Racial tensions are definitely higher than normal because minorities in low-income neighborhoods think residents in wealthier areas are receiving help faster.”

“One of the strangest feelings I’ve had this week is having to relieve myself outside, probably in what used to be someone’s yard. As a woman, I enjoy privacy for these situations but when there are no stores open and people have either abandoned their homes or they remain but have no water or electricity, what do you do? It just felt wrong…”

September 2, 2005 journal entry:

“Greg [a Times photographer] arrived today and it helps to see a friendly face. I’m supposed to leave on Tuesday, which would be my 12th day of work. The plan is to switch people out so we don’t get too burned out.”

Aug 26, 2010
Category:News Hurricane Katrina - The Photos, The People, and The Stories Behind Them. Behind the Scenes In the News 
Posted by: Jessica

Merriam-Webster defines martial law as the law administered by military forces that is invoked by a government in an emergency when the civilian law enforcement agencies are unable to maintain public order and safety.

While the local, state and federal governments were arguing over how to handle the crisis, who should handle it and who should get credit, The National Guard stepped in and took control.

Thank God.

Working in a tense, unpredictable situation is hard enough without worrying about whether or not YOU as a journalist will become a victim. When people are desperate, they turn to anyone who can help. Some plead, some steal.

Rumors started that the New Orleans Police Department was basically disabled—officers had taken to looting or fleeing the city all together. I have no idea if that was true. I do know that as many local people as there were volunteering (police, firefighters, etc), there were just as many members of the National Guard.

I never felt 100% safe when I was in New Orleans for Katrina but then again, I didn’t feel completely safe while attending Mardi Gras on Bourbon Street either.

As we drove near the French Market, we came upon a profane epitaph spray painted on a wall above a dead body wrapped in a sheet. It was a surreal experience to see a dead body in the open with no immediate need to remove it or investigate. We asked some local police officers later if they knew what body we were talking about. They did and they said it appeared the man was strangled to death.

So, this man didn’t die from drowning or starvation after Hurricane Katrina, but instead someone strangled him? This blew my mind.

When I asked why they didn’t move the body to a morgue, the officer answered with a “What’s the point?” kind of attitude. He said there were so many bodies piling up, it was hard to find places to store them. 1300 bodies total were found in Mississippi and Louisiana, not counting those who are still missing. A makeshift morgue was set up at St. Gabriel to house nearly 900 bodies while family members tried to identify and claim their loved ones.

We also visited a cemetery and saw that the few caskets that were buried underground were no longer in their original resting place. Most of the graves in New Orleans have above-ground tombs because once you dig a few feet under the surface, you’ve hit water. When it floods, everything becomes an above-ground cemetery.

After a few days of complete chaos in the city, The National Guard took over and did so very well. They camped out at the Riverwalk and Convention Center and brought order to a situation that seemed completely out of control. They were kind enough to share water and MREs with us and I will never forget how they handled the aftermath of Katrina.

September 1, 2005 journal entry:

“The most uneasy feeling was driving around the French Quarter, seeing no one except refugees trying to leave and looters. It finally hit me that there is no law. If something happened to us, no one would know and there’s no police to call. Even if there were, our cell phones don’t work within miles of New Orleans.”

“Francis [a Times reporter] didn’t do anything I didn’t want to but I definitely pushed my personal limits—with my car and my safety. It’s a bad situation when I don’t feel safe, even when police and military are sometimes standing near me on a street corner. There is no guarantee they can protect me.”

A special thank you goes out to Louisiana State Trooper Doug Pierrelee of Bossier City, Louisiana who watched over me while I was in New Orleans. He did his job well while still giving me access to important information and photo opportunities. I appreciate his time and felt completely safe knowing he and other troopers had my back. Thank you!

*Last two photos by Bart Boatwright/The Greenville News*

Aug 25, 2010
Category:News Hurricane Katrina - The Photos, The People, and The Stories Behind Them. Behind the Scenes In the News 
Posted by: Jessica

If you’re anything like me, my heart aches for people in pain. But when it comes to the defenseless, the small and the furry, I weep.

Hurricane Katrina not only destroyed the homes and lives of New Orleans residents but in some cases, it took from them important members of the family...their pets.

I adore my dog and can’t imagine leaving her during a disaster but that shows how desperate some folks became. Some left animals stranded in homes to drown, some let them out but then had to fend for themselves in flood waters and others tried to make it to a shelter that would take care of their beloved pets.

That’s love—swimming or walking through miles of water to reach dry land or a shelter, with a dog or cat in your arms and all of your belongings in a bag on your back.

One of the most organized and wonderful things that happened the week of Katrina was the mission to save these abandoned animals. It started with buses taking locals with their animals to a shelter so they could drop off their pets while they looked for loved ones lost in the storm. Some made it back to get them, some didn’t.

Louisiana State University allowed volunteers to use Parker Coliseum to house the animals and organize adoptions. With so many pets, it can be difficult to give each a little attention every day. Volunteers worried how to feed them on a daily basis but knew they also need love and attention. They had lost their owners and were stuck in crates and stables waiting to be processed.

Setting up a dog walking area was a hopeful stage of getting everyone’s lives repaired. A little normalcy did everyone some good.

I was so tempted to adopt a dog or two or three. I knew it wouldn’t end. I had an apartment in Shreveport, Louisiana, worked full-time and went out of town a lot so I knew it wasn’t the right decision.

I met Joyce and Clement who carried their dog, Tootsie, through flood waters to dry land to wait for a ride to a shelter. Joyce broke down when she finally sat and Clement tried to console her. Tootsie seemed unaffected, just a little thirsty.

I told them how sorry I was that they had to go through this. I felt awful for them and all I could offer was bottled water. But I admired their dedication and their committment to each other and Tootsie.

Aug 24, 2010
Category:News Hurricane Katrina - The Photos, The People, and The Stories Behind Them. Behind the Scenes In the News 
Posted by: Jessica

Walking into chaos as a female journalist with expensive gear dangling from my arms was one of the most uneasy feelings I have ever had.

The adrenaline I get from being in a newsworthy situation, not sure of what’s to come, helps. But knowing there’s not much that can be done if someone attacks me is a level of fear I realized I am not comfortable with.

The first big shooting day I had was arriving at the Superdome in the heart of New Orleans. The last time I was there I attended a Saints game with some friends and had a wonderful time—drinking, cheering, joking about crazy fans.

This time was so very different.

Getting there was a task in itself. Driving through flooded streets and passing refugees walking aimlessly, we made it to a dry spot where the National Guard promised us my car was safe. We strapped on our knee-high rubber boots (my best investment of the trip) and headed on foot to the Superdome. I went on this adventure with two male journalists from other papers that had already been there to assess the damage.

Experience is everything.

First we had to walk through a Hyatt that smelled so much like urine, we gagged as we opened the door. I’m sure it was once considered a prime spot to stay, being so close to the Superdome. Now, it was just a shell, housing lost people and lost hope.

When we first walked up to the entrance of the Superdome, I got all the dirty looks I was accustomed to getting at fires, car accidents and other tragedies. But the difference was these people were not just depressed and angry—they were starving, thirsty, tired and homeless. Not a good combination.

Then I found that half the people were more than willing to talk to me, let me photograph them and tell me their story. They wanted media coverage. They wanted to find their families. And they wanted to get home.

This was one of the times I felt truly honored to be a member of the media. If just one of my photos helped lost relatives find each other or created awareness about the desperate situation, it was worth every frame I shot.

Then a member of the National Guard told me I was not allowed inside the Superdome. (Journalists don’t like hearing “no” even if it’s from a man with a large gun.) I asked why, of course, and he said it was simply too dangerous. Not because I was a woman, but because I wasn’t a refugee, just a journalist. At this point there were rumors of rape and murder from inside the Superdome. The National Guardsman confirmed it was pretty awful inside but wouldn’t go into specifics.

Later when I saw the news that night, I saw how the media embellished the rumors. It made me mad to know that there was no proof so rumors were turned into facts. That happened quite a bit that week. I would be shooting something and see or read a completely different (and sensationalized) account of the event. We all want great photographs and great quotes from an event like this, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of the subjects. It shouldn’t be worth telling lies.

At the Superdome I witnessed some ridiculous and awful things. My first strange encounter was when I saw two National Guardsmen standing watch over two men on the ground with assault rifles. Blood was running down one man’s face as he tried to explain what happened. I heard from the Guard that the two men got into a fight over a cigarette and one of them pulled a knife. Over a cigarette!!! This proved to me that no one was in their right mind. How could they be?

I also met Gale, a hysterical woman who was weeping and babbling. No one could understand her. I told the Guard watching her that I wanted to talk to her. I asked her to calm down and tell me her story. She said she got separated from her mother (her only living relative) when her mom passed out and was taken to a shelter for care. She had been waiting in line for hours and hours to get on a bus to go to a shelter. After the Guard heard her story, he said if she calmed down, he would let her get on the bus now to find her mother.

So good to know there are people out there who still listen in times of chaos.

As I looked around, I saw a man tied to a chair, in urine-soaked jeans, surrounded by Guardsmen. They weren’t being aggressive towards him, just trying to calm him. But again, no one had listened to his story so he continued to yell. He told me he was tied down because he pulled some scissors on guys who were threatening his family. He said he was trying to defend himself and his family. I felt awful for him, knowing if I was in his situation, I would defend my family no matter what it took.

September 3, 2005 journal entry:

“I am disgusted by the living conditions at the Superdome. There are still hundreds and hundreds of people outside lying in filth—trash, urine, feces, food, liquor. It’s like the smell of Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras times a hundred….

…We walked through the Hyatt to get to the Superdome. In the hotel, it’s pitch black with the smell of urine filling the building. It was frightening to walk through and hear the flopping of my rubber dairy boots on the wet floor. It was slimy and slippery, from God knows what…

…As I looked for some detail shots among the trash on the grounds outside the Superdome, I found an old framed family portrait. I thought it was so sad that someone saved it and brought it all this way through the evacuation but then left it, because they didn’t see value in it any more. It broke my heart…”

Aug 23, 2010
Category:News Hurricane Katrina - The Photos, The People, and The Stories Behind Them. Behind the Scenes In the News 
Posted by: Jessica

I’ve been torn as to how to start this series. It’s so close to my heart and is such a sensitive subject with some folks, I was afraid of what to say.

Then, I found journal entries in my reporter notebooks from that week.

I wrote my first entry when I arrived in Baton Rouge with a reporter named Francis. We stayed at a congressman’s house near the Capitol before we drove into New Orleans. We arrived on Sunday, August 30, 2005, the day after Katrina hit.

I remembered how irritated I was when I left Shreveport (five hours northwest of New Orleans), because my newspaper (The Times) was not willing to let me use a company car. I remembered hearing that a VIP needed it for something and I’d have to take my own. I had just purchased a brand new 2005 Chevy Trailblazer not two months before Katrina. (It still had that new car smell.) I was upset. I thought the least my paper could do was let me use a company car since I was covering a dangerous aftermath of the state’s worst natural disaster.

Then, I arrived in New Orleans and realized my anger and frustration was petty. I was alive. I had a car. And I didn’t live in New Orleans.

I had nothing to complain about.

Most of the images posted here are from Rouse’s Supermarket in Metairie, Louisiana (a suburb of New Orleans). This was one of the first times I saw the chaos of what Katrina had done to these people. Police called taking food and supplies from a supermarket “looting”.

Looting is defined as “anything taken by dishonesty, force, stealth, etc.” Those who were taking DVD players and top-notch Nike shoes are absolutely being dishonest but those who are taking food for their families, are simply trying to survive. FEMA was nowhere near reaching these people and if I was in that situation, I would have done the same thing.

But walking inside a pitch black supermarket where desperate people are fighting for food and water is a scary feeling. My only weapons were my cameras but even so, I was 120 pounds soaking wet. Could I defend myself if something happened? And what would keep them from stealing my gear?

I shot most of my photos outside the supermarket for safety reasons and for light. (It was awful inside--it smelled like bad fish and sour milk.) We met a woman named Hannah who sat and waited with her infant son while her husband went inside to gather whatever food was left. She seemed defeated. Her son was too young to understand, thank God.

Then we met Darmesha, a young girl was “standing guard” by her family’s stash of supplies while they went inside for more. She had a dazed look about her—her eyes were empty and she seemed numb. I’m sure this is the first tragedy of this kind that this little girl has ever experienced.

August 31, 2005 journal entry:

“We finally get out and go to LSU where there’s a special needs shelter set up. We talk to a few people but get kicked off campus fairly quickly by police. I talked to Arthur, a 59-year-old man sitting in a wheelchair outside the shelter. He told me he left his wife and kids in the 7t h Ward (of New Orleans) to go to the Superdome. He’s not sure if they’re alive or what’s left of their house. I can’t imagine what he’s going through and how uncertain he feels his future is…

…What I will remember are the smells, even on the first day. The smell of vomit outside the LSU shelter and the smell of spoiled, rotten food outside Rouse’s Supermarket in Metairie…

…Other journalists are talking about what people have seen as they get into the heart of New Orleans—dead bodies of adults and children floating in the floodwaters, people begging for rescue from their roofs, looting downtown with guns…”