St. Joseph Catholic School
Although Sun Herald photographer Tim Isbell experienced Hurricane Katrina first hand, he remembers the storm more for what he saw than what he lived.
Wednesday, Tim Isbell shared his memories of covering Hurricane Katrina with 16 high school students attending a summer journalism workshop at USM through the photographs he took during and after the storm almost ten years ago.
“It seems like as far as the country thinks, it only hit New Orleans,” Isbell said. “There was a feeling on the coast that we were being left out.”
Isbell said he felt a personal responsibility to cover what was happening in Mississippi.
Isbell, who originally thought Katrina would miss Gulfport, said it looked like a bomb hit the coast after the storm passed.
The week prior to Katrina is still clear in Isbell’s mind. He recalls his son playing in his school’s band during a football game and the excitement felt throughout the town with the Hard Rock Café opening.
Isbell was among the last people to prepare his house for what was to come. He did not realize the severity of the hurricane until a police officer told him his house was in an evacuation zone and to leave as soon as possible.
Once Isbell made it clear to the officer that he was not planning on leaving, the officer asked for his personal information so his body could be identified once Katrina took him.
While Isbell survived the storm, the days and weeks following Katrina were tough.
“If you didn’t have the right mind set it can get the best of you,” Isbell said.
It took two weeks to find out that everyone from the paper survived.
While speaking, Isbell displayed photographs of signs found in front of destroyed homes. These signs read, “Blvd of Broken Dreams,” “Keep out or be shot,” “Lawn of the Year” and “Camille who?”
In Gulfport, homes were destroyed, families were separated and the streets were flooded. Isbell got lost in his own town after Katrina because most visual clues were swept away.
“Spoiled food was everywhere,” Isbell said. “I hadn’t had a true bath in three days.”
Isbell recalled many walking people around with blank expressions and staring into space.
Isbell visited Waveland mayor Tommy Longo, who was struggling to cope with the aftermath of the storm.
“I had to sort of help him walk,” Isbell said. “It seemed like his next step would be his last.”
Isbell is proud that Hurricane Katrina only seemed to make his community stronger.
Isbell said the people felt thankful for the things they had. FEMA trails were decorated at Christmas, and turkeys were cooked outside on Thanksgiving.
“If you could say something positive came from it, it was all the volunteers,” Isbell said.
Isbell said Katrina was a defining moment of his, and many others’ careers.
“We tell Katrina war stories,” Isbell joked.
Isbell said that recounting his experience for the students brought him back to 2005.
“I could smell Katrina again, and I could see the brown,” Isbell said. “I don’t think you ever get over it.”