Sunday, August 22, 2010

Anderson Cooper - A Katrina Retrospective

Anderson Cooper circa 2005 -- A Katrina Retrospective -- Part 1

Tonight we take a look back. The year is 2005 and Hurricane Katrina has just slammed into the Gulf Coast. Anderson Cooper is on the scene and filing reports ~ The quotes used in this post are from Anderson's book Dispatches from the Edge - A Memoir of War, Disasters and Survival. If you haven't read AC's book, I suggest you do and if it's been a while, it may be time to read it again.

Sunday, August 28th, Baton Rogue, Louisiana

After covering several hurricanes, you start to know what to expect. At first the winds pick up gently. Then it starts to rain. Your fancy Gore-Tex clothing keeps you dry for about thirty minutes; then the water starts to seep in. Within an hour you're completely wet. Your feet slosh around in your boots, and your hands are wrinkled and white. If you've ever wondered what your skin will look like when you're eighty-five, try standing in a hurricane for a few hours. ... Katrina comes ashore at 6:10a.m., on Monday...

In the end, the real power of a hurricane isn't found in its wind speed. It's in what it leaves behind-- the lives lost, the lives changed, the memories obliterated in a gust of wind. Anyone who does hurricane reporting for any length of time knows all too well that standing in the aftermath of a storm is much more difficult than standing in the storm itself, no matter how hard the wind blows.

Tuesday, August 30th, Gulfport, Mississippi

When we get to Gulfport, the motion stops and reality sets in. It's worse than I imagined. The worst I've ever seen in America. ... Downtown Gulfport is in shambles. People stagger about with no shoes, licking at their tears. Tractor trailer trucks that have been flung about, lie in a pile like abandon children's toys. ... Next to the waterfront, a casino barge, a block long, sits on dry land. Through a gash in the side, silver slot machines sparkle. An urban search-and-rescue team walks by in the dying light in steel-tow boots, with lamps on their helmets, looking for anyone who may be alive.

Nancy Grace interviewed Anderson about what he was experiencing in Gulfport, MS

Wednesday, August 31st, Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

Anderson was live from Bay St. Louis on Wednesday night. He gave us an update on the desperate situation there and asked the question he had heard over and over again that day -- Where is the help?

On the same program, he brought us a report from his day in Waveland, Mississippi, with an urban search-and-rescue task force from Virginia

...a woman named Sally Slaughterstops by to report a missing person. ... Slaughter knew that Christina Bane and her family didn't evacuate. ... Later, I learn the real reason they'd stayed: Bane's two sons were disabled, and she didn't want to go to a shelter where people would stare. .... Christina Bane is inside. So are Edgar and their two sons, Carl and Edgar Junior. All four are dead. Drowned. Sally Slaughter is crying. She's the only one. One of the searchers takes out a camera -- digital, downloadable -- and shoots pictures of the Banes. Click. Click. Click. Click. Another searcher takes out a Magic Marker. On the Bane's front door he writes V for victims. 4 DEAD. ... I never thought I'd see this here, in America -- the dead left out like trash. None of us speaks. There's nothing you can say.

When you're working, you're focused on getting the shot, writing the story. You sometimes don't notice how upset you are. In Waveland, I certainly don't. Late Wednesday night, I'm talking to someone back in the office about the woman we left on the street, and I find myself crying. I can't speak. I have to call that person back. At first I don't realize what is happening to me. It's been years since a story made me cry. Sarajevo was probably the last time. I've never been on this kind of story, though, in my own country. It's something I never expected to see.

Thursday & Friday, September 1st & 2nd, Waveland, Mississippi

I'm about to interview Senator Mary Landrieu. She's a Democrat from Louisiana. I'm unaware she's going to be on the program until a few minutes before she appears. Much of what we're doing on the air each night is impromptu. I like working that way best. No scripts, no TelePrompTer, just talking with the viewers-- no separation between me and the camera. Before I go on air each night, I have a rough idea what will be in the program: where our reporters are located and what they've been working on. During the broadcast, however, much of that changes, so I have to be quick on my feet, ready for anything.

Just as we come back from commercial break, a pickup truck drives by. In the back a young man with a trucker hat holds up a tattered American flag. He salvaged it from the wreckage. He's tired and worn, but proud of that flag, proud that he and his family are still standing. We don't speak -- he is too far away -- but I look him in the eye and we nod to each other. In his face I think I detect betrayal and anger, but also strength and resolve. I'm on the air, but I find my self tearing up. My throat tightens;I'm almost unable to speak. I quickly try to move on to another story, and hope no one has noticed.

Walking through the rubble it feels like Sri Lanka, Sarajevo, somewhere else, not here, not home, not America. I've covered a lot of disasters, natural and manmade and each one is different, each one the same.... At a certain point it feels like all the words have already been spoken, devastation, destruction, disaster, sadness and pain. Again and again it's always the same, the heat, the humidity, the sweat, the tears. This time does feel different. This time it's our home.

And a harsh homecoming it is for some of the residents of Waveland. Anderson met up with a few and filed the following report.

And it's been a privilege to be in Waveland the last two nights here, the people just remarkable, some looting here, yes, but people have just been helping one another, neighbor helping neighbor. The federal government is here. FEMA, these Virginia urban search and rescue personnel have just been doing extraordinary work and continue to. As the sun goes down, they'll continue to work. As the sun comes up, they'll be working again.

Saturday, September 3rd, New Orleans, Louisiana

Saturday, I leave for New Orleans. It's only about fifty miles from Waveland, but the drive takes several hours because of roadblocks and traffic. ... CNN has sent trucks from Atlanta with food and gas so we can operate independently for weeks. They've also sent two RV's so we'll have a place to sleep.

.... When we enter the city, it feels like we're crossing a frontier. the farther we go the more we find stripped away. ... We head toward the Lower Ninth Ward.

... A few blocks from Bourbon Street, we stop at a police station to borrow a boat. A cowboy crew of cops has been holed up there for days. A hand-drawn sign on a sheet of cardboard hangs over the entrance. FORT APACHE, it says. That's what they've renamed the station. "We call it Fort Apache 'cause we're surrounded by water and Indians," says a cop with a cowboy hat ....

We wake each day unsure what lies ahead. Early in the morning, we gather in the lobby of the hotel. Few words are spoken before we head out. We climb into our SUV, a small platoon searching the city. The water recedes, new streets emerge, the map is redrawn every day.

Some residents sill refuse to leave. On the street outside her two-room rental, I spot an elderly lady, overweight, overtired. She sits on a rusty metal chair and leans on a cane with the words LOVE MINISTRIES crudely carved into the wood. She stares straight ahead, but her eyes are clouded and seem to be focused somewhere just above the horizon. Her name is Terry Davis, but she says around here everyone calls her Miss Connie. "I'm legally blind," she tells me, "and they won't let me take my service dog with me."

After a month, I reluctantly leave New Orleans. I head back to Mississippi for several days. John Grisham and his wife have begun raising money for rebuilding the Gulf, and they agree to meet me in Biloxi so I can report on their efforts. He suggests we meet at a restaurant called Mary Mahoney's. It's a Biloxi landmark that Grisham has included in several of his most popular books. Mary Mahoney's was badly flooded during the storm, and workmen are busy trying to get it reopened. I arrive before the Grishams and when I walk into the restaurant, the owner, Bob Mahoney, smiles and says, "Welcome Back."

I sign off from Waveland, Mississippi. Tomorrow I'll return home. My office is insisting I come back, "at least for a little while." That's what they say, but I know it means it's over. They'll let me return, visit from time to time, do updates, but soon there will be other headlines, other dramas, and those who weren't here will want to move on.

Next week we will look at interviews Anderson did with Charlie Rose and Bill Maher while reporting from the Gulf. We'll also look at a couple of those follow up visits and updates. Stay tuned....

Blogger's Comment: In working on this post I got to thinking how many of the Katrina "stories" were never completed/followed up on. I was pleased to check my BlackBerry after hat shopping on Thursday, and learn that Anderson and AC360 would be reporting live from NOLA this Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Personally, I would love to hear how Ms. Connie is doing, if she moved back to NOLA and reopened her "Love Ministries" -- (Last report from 2006 she was living in London, Kentucky with her dog, Abu.) Do you have a story you would like to see followed up on? ~ Wonz.

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On_Love_Street_With_Jim_Morrison said...

Anderson's Katrina reporting was the best. Back then he actually cared and was an excellent field reporter. Now he's very lackluster and lackadaisical about it. Its a shame he became like that because his Katrina reporting proves how good he can be at it when he wants to.

His interview with Mary Landrieu is one of his best interviews ever. I love that he didn't let her get away saying all the crazy stuff she was saying.

I hope his reports from NOLA this week will be just as good as when he was there 5 years ago.

Anonymous said...

But will Friday actually be taped?

Jaanza said...

Excellent post with the excerpts from Anderson's book and the videos (although I haven't seen the videos yet, have to wait my turn on the better computer)

Miss Connie is someone I'd like to hear from also. The only other person sticking out in my mind right now is the white Mississippi woman - short dark hair and glasses - who was crying while looking for something, anything in the rubble of her former home. She and her husband are in the background while Anderson talked to the camera until he was overcome with emotion and had to wave off the cameraman.

Tedi B said...

Wow, excellent work on that post! It brings back a lot of memories. I remember staying up all night watching CNN and seeing Anderson trying to stay on that bridge! That truly was some of the best reporting of his career! I hope we get to see some follow ups on some of those people.

Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

I loved watching Anderson during Katrina. I'm actually in New Orleans this week. I wonder if he will be in the park near the bridge? I may have to go find him! :)

judy said...

Thanks for the entire retrospective of Katrina Wonz. This was compiled very well and was a lot of work.
Katrina put Anderson on the map and his interview with Mary Landrieu made him famous, and he's continuing to enjoy the fruits of this labor even today.
Unfortunately, like so many other personalities, he has begun to believe his own publicity. Back then he stood out by saying a reporter should: "stand aside and allow the story to tell itself" and he believed it. Now, HE WANTS to be the story it seems, and that is very disappointing.
I'm not going into the specifics. Perhaps he needs a "time out," to find himself again.
Hope his return to NOLA is about NOLA and not the "celebs" that happen to live there.

Anonymous said...

So happy to see you back :) Thank you for your post. Hmmm like to see follow-ups of 2 stories Jaanza mentioned and can you pls update on the dog pictured in pic No.15? :) Thank you.

Anonymous said...

My father passed away Aug 19,2005. My memories are really hazy during that period. Watching News about Katrina was so hard. Worring about my brother who was in Lake Charles and seeing all the people in new orleans superdome and convention center. Soul wrentching.

Thank You for your post today. I read Andersons book loved it As hard as it isto remember, Forgetting is unaceptable.

Keep up the good work.


Anonymous said...

So only 2 days of Anderson this week in Nola? I am assuming Friday is taped as usual.

Jacq said...

Your recap was great. I, too enjoyed watching AC at his best and I wonder how all of those people are doing. An extensive follow-up would be great.
Also, for anyone who has not read AC book please do so. He talks about so many intesting and sad places he has covered. You feel like you have had an education, as well as,a few insights into AC's life.

Jaanza said...

I was finally able to watch the videos on the better computer. The woman I was referring to earlier is in the Waveland video (Connelly?).

What will be the lead story tonight? The Miners in Chile? The judge ruling against federal funding for stem cell research? Please not the mosque or Schlessinger.