By AJ McGee
Forrest County Agricultural High School
A group of four Hurricane Katrina survivors on Thursday shared their stories of resilience with high school students participating in a multimedia workshop at USM.
The speakers described how they survived Katrina, the role they played in the recovery of the affected areas, and what they have learned in the 10 years since.
The four speakers were Nedra Allgood, a part of the health restoration program; Toby Barker, a Mississippi state representative; and Michael Marks and Mackenzie Westmoreland, the writers of the play “The Katrina Project: Hell and High Water.”
Allgood worked alongside FEMA in three Mississippi counties to provide thousands of trailers as well as healthcare, food and counseling.
“The ones most in need were the elderly and disabled,” Allgood said. “This was the hardest thing for me to bear.”
Allgood said she was deeply effected by Katrina and believes that recovery will be a long process.
“Mental debilitation of the people hurt by Katrina still exists and will never go away completely,” Allgood said. “I suffered for a deep sadness for a year or two and still have some anxiety about Katrina.”
Barker said he nearly died in Katrina when a tree came crashing into his house and landed on the couch where he was sitting only 30 seconds prior.
Barker said he was displaced from his home for six months, but spoke mostly of positive memories.
“I saw a resilience and unity and leadership in Hattiesburg during the hurricane,” Barker said. “I saw it again in the 2013 tornado. I saw it in the HPD shooting. I want to see it in people everyday, and I want people to summon the best of themselves.”
Marks said he had many frustrations as he survived Katrina.
According to Marks, 2/3 of his house was destroyed, he was looted twice and, like many people, he fell victim to an insurance company that would not pay for damages.
Marks said he was redirected 52 times before he finally got through to a vice president who still refused to help.
“I threatened to expose the wrong doings of the insurance company in the ‘Hell and High Water’ play and I got a $22,000 check the next morning,” Marks said.
Westmoreland lived in New York when Katrina hit but traveled to Hattiesburg to aid Marks in the production of the play.
“All royalties from the play are donated to disaster relief programs,” Westmoreland said.
Westmoreland was born during Hurricane Camille, so his life epitomizes seeing the light in the darkness.
“The reason for his play and for the remembering Katrina anniversary is to remember the lessons, and celebrate the recovery,” Westmoreland said.