Petal High School
Times Picayune photographer Ted Jackson and his wife agreed that in the event of a hurricane, he would stay behind and cover the storm no matter how dangerous.
During Hurricane Katrina, Jackson, who spoke Tuesday to students at the USM High School Journalism and Multimedia workshop, not only captured photographs but also lived through the chaos surrounding the storm.
Jackson said he bunkered down in the Times Picayune’s office with journalists from the paper as well as those from other cities and The Associated Press who were staying in New Orleans to cover the story first-hand.
“Everyone was at the paper,” Jackson said. “Journalists, photographers, and their families were all piled in as the glass shook from the 100 MPH winds.”
Seeing the massive amounts of flooding and destruction that the early parts of the storm caused, Jackson said that his coworkers decided that they would all pile into the paper’s delivery trucks and evacuate “without actually knowing where they may end up. Aimlessly driving anywhere safe.”
Jackson said when his editor told him it was time to evacuate, Jackson saw a boat floating in the rising waters at the back patio of the paper’s first floor.
“I told myself that if there was a motor or a paddle in this boat, I wasn’t leaving,” Jackson said. “I was taking this boat.”
Jackson found that the only thing inside the boat was a broken broom, which he took as a sign that he was supposed to stay in New Orleans.
After five hours of paddling, Jackson was forced to decide whom he would attempt to rescue, all the while worrying about the safety of his family.
“If I couldn’t save them, I wouldn’t shoot them,” Jackson said in reference to those clinging to life in the floodwaters.
And there was no shortage of people to shoot or save.
When Jackson ventured into the Lower Ninth Ward, found the flooding was so bad that entire families were forced to wade in shoulder-high water or cling to any object that was sturdy or floating.
Jackson spent the next few days bringing photographs of scenes from outlying New Orleans back to the Times Picayune.
Despite the amount of coverage in New Orleans, Jackson said the media failed to convey the devastation of poorer areas.
When Jackson and fellow journalists arrived as the New Orleans Superdome, they were prepared to face looters and rioting, only to see dozens of dead bodies scattered around the perimeter.
Those who were alive were deteriorating quickly from a lack of food and water.
Jackson recalled a young woman who was giving him a tour around the surrounding area where people were taking refuge in tents outside the Superdome.
“We turned a corner and found another group of people gathered around supplies and blankets where (the woman giving the tour) broke down,” Jackson said. “She got on her knees and cried out to the camera ‘Help us please.’
“It was eye-opening to understand that this woman was not asking us or god for help, but she was asking those on the opposite side of my lens.”
Jackson’s coverage of the super storm ended a few days later when he made contact with his family in McComb, Mississippi. He left New Orleans and went to see his wife and family.
Jackson continues to cover Katrina’s aftermath to this day.