Aug. 31, 2005
8:25 am Biloxi, Miss.
Highway 90 is now a broken stretch of beachfront ruin. Sections of the road have buckled or washed away, and the once beautiful views have been replaced by miles of sadness.
Hotels, restaurants, apartment buildings, churches, and hundreds of homes, are completely demolished or severely damaged. Some look as if they've been swept from their foundations by a giant broom. Others look like a bomb went off on the ground floor: second stories collapsing onto the first. Front porches hanging perilously, their support columns washed away.
Katrina is being called the worst disaster in the history of the state of Mississippi, with Biloxi and three neighboring beach towns hit hardest. The pictures can be numbing after a while, but try standing in Randall Broussard's front yard, just a block from the beach, and talk to him about his storm-ravaged house and watch the tears well up in his eyes.
He and his brothers grew up in Biloxi. His 77-year-old mom lives just down the road, in the same house for more than forty years. She survived Camille there, among the worst storms to ever hit the state, or the country, but Katrina wasn't as kind to Mama Broussard. Her house was wiped out. Her boys don't have the heart to tell her. They're worried she won't survive the news.
Randall told me he never dreamed his place would get hammered so badly, but his heart began to sink as he drove home after the storm, surveying the incredible damages in his neighborhood. When he saw what the storm surge did to the rest of the coastal community, he began preparing himself for great loss.
"My biggest worry was this big oak tree,” he told me, pointing at a huge, thick old tree right next to his shotgun-style home. "I thought it might fall down on top of the house. My other worry was the big A/C units on top of that condo,” he said, pointing at the three-story building recently put up between his house and the beach. "There were ten of them up there, and I was sure one of them would wind up on my roof."
Instead, it was the storm surge that flooded and buckled his home. The roof and walls are still intact, but bent and failing. The place looks ready to collapse. Fence posts he set himself are tossed around the street, their concrete bases still attached. A red sports car is on its roof in front of his property, surrounded by piles of construction debris. It belonged to a neighbor down the road. He showed me a hurricane strap on the ground that was designed to hold a wall frame to floorboards. It came from a beachfront condo that is now completely gone.
"Are you going to rebuild?" I asked him.
"The whole city has to rebuild,” he quickly answered, and he's right.
Aug. 30, 2005
9:25 p.m. in Biloxi, Miss.
We got the call around 7:30 Monday night, in the middle of the "FOX Report."
"We've been going back and forth with this …"
It was Doug Jaclin from the assignment desk.
"We should've told you two hours ago, but we want you to head towards New Orleans."
Producer Shushanna Walshe, Photographer Tommy Chiu, Audio Tech Mark Cubrilo and I had driven to Tuscaloosa, Ala., that morning from Birmingham, where we'd landed the night before. Our mission was to report on the hurricane once it had cleared the Gulf Coast and headed north. Tuscaloosa was in Katrina's projected path.
We met our Chicago satellite truck at the Riverwalk Park and did a couple of live shots as heavy rain started to fall. A big tree fell, too, right next to us. Fortunately it fell away from our truck, or the vehicle might've been heavily damaged, with us inside.
After the 5:00 hit we moved to higher ground, in the parking lot of a downtown building that offered protection from the wind, but our 6:00 shot was cancelled, and then the call came to move south.
Before we packed up the gear I Map Quested the distance: 270 miles, roughly 4½ hours.
The trip wound up taking about four times that long — 17½ eerie, unusual and uplifting hours ... a slow-moving trek down dark Route 59, with several detours.
The two-lane divided highway was blocked by hundreds of fallen pine trees. The pavement was green with pine needles, pinecones and branches. It reminded me of a snow-covered road with tire tracks cut through the powder, only in this case the extra layer wasn't white.
The trees made the drive harrowing. They often blocked both lanes and part of the shoulder, and because there were no lights, the hazards were tough to see unless you had your high beams on.
We passed several highway work crews with chainsaws and bulldozers, cutting a path through the trees and clearing the logs and branches off to the side. We also passed several cars that had driven off the side of the road and into the swampy woods below. All of them had apparently been searched by rescue crews, with orange tags on the windows.
In many spots the northbound lanes were completely impassable, so some oncoming traffic found its way onto our side of the road, which also made for some tense moments.
We pulled off several times looking for open gas stations. We wanted to top off the tanks, nervous that we didn't have enough fuel to make it to New Orleans.
We only found one place with lights on, early in the journey, but the pumps didn't work. We also lost contact with the satellite truck somewhere near Meridian, Miss. Engineers Dusty Grubish and Tom "T-Bone" Ewing were following us, but couldn't keep up, and our cell phones stopped working and our two-way radios have limited range.
They wound up stopping and spending the night in Hattiesburg, and we soldiered on. I was amazed they got as far as they did, with all the trees down and debris on the road. The sides of the big truck must've been totally scraped.
Just outside Hattiesburg traffic came to a standstill. A bunch of cars piled up behind some 18-wheelers. I stopped a police officer driving the other way.
"We're from FOX News. Can we get through?" I asked.
"Good luck," he answered. "It's a real pig tail."
"Excuse me?" I was unfamiliar with the expression.
"It's like a pig tail. They're cutting it as they go."
Tommy and Mark got out and ran ahead to scout out the cause of the delay. This time it wasn't trees, but power lines dipping dangerously low across the highway. Someone had propped a forked stick underneath the wires, holding them up about seven feet off the pavement, but it was too low for the tractor-trailers now idling in front of us.
We drove on the grass, around the cars stopped in front of us, and passed the trucks. We slowly crept under the wires and continued on our journey.
Things got worse after midnight. More trees, bigger ones, crowding the highway as we moved further south. There were no more work crews.
Instead, private citizens with their own chain saws were leading the pack, stopping at each downed pine, slicing through it, and moving on to the next. It was painfully slow, but we had little choice, since the side roads were likely worse.
One stretch was particularly bad, and we sat with our engine off for long periods of time, spending several hours on a stretch of five miles or less.
By daybreak, we were running dangerously low on fuel.
We decided to get off the highway and try and find a good Samaritan in a neighborhood nearby who might have a can of gas in their garage, or might be willing to siphon some out of their tank.
First, we had to make a risky maneuver of our own, when we reached another impassable stretch of road. We drove off an on-ramp, drove on an off-ramp, and went south on the northbound lanes for several miles, dodging cars, trucks and big rigs along the way.
Finally, we reached a populated area and found our savior, Jim Fornea. He had trees down all around his home, and plenty of cleanup to do, with no power, no phones and his neighborhood in ruins.
He also had a bass boat with at least ten gallons in the tanks, and graciously offered to share some with us, even cutting a stretch of his garden hose and doing the suction work himself, getting the gas to flow from his boat to two small borrowed cans.
We hit the road again, with our tanks slightly fuller, and talked our way past a couple of roadblocks to make it onto I-10 Eastbound towards Biloxi. The closer we got to the coast, the greater the devastation.
We drove over power lines, past a flipped van, and a giant fuel tank sitting by itself on the highway, blocking two of the three lanes. When we arrived at the beach, the sight staggered us all. Much of Biloxi was leveled.
You’re doing a great job. I hope someone is taking care of you, the crew, other reporters and rescue/relief workers. I don’t know how you’re coping and doing what you’re doing.
Earlier Fox News tried to get answers (from political guests) to why the New Orleans/Louisiana leadership has been “invisible” to their citizens and the rest of the nation. Where is the leadership? Why don’t they go to the Superdome to help create calm and order? Their simple, physical presence could do so much for the morale of those citizens. Don’t you think? Can you shed some light on this? Stay safe.
Appreciate all your great reporting from Biloxi both before and after Katrina. Without you and the other FOX reporters we wouldn't know what's really going on in the Gulf. Thanks for your continued dedication to this devastating situation. Please let the people of Biloxi know South Florida is praying for them and here to help. Stay Safe Rick!
Like most people around the world, I am compelled to watch FNC's coverage of hurricane Katrina. It is impossible to believe that these scenes are not in Bangladesh or some other third world country. I can only imagine the despair & heartache these people are suffering.
Please tell the people of Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama that their friends in England are keeping them in their hearts and send their love & support.
Wwe watched you in Iraq and were very taken back by you courage and tenacity. Now we watch you in the Gulf States and are taken back by your compassion. Keep up the good work and please know that you along with other survivors are in our prayers.
It is so sad to see all of the devastation down in LA, MS, and AL. Stay safe and please let the people down there know that our thoughts and prayers are with them. I know that all of them supported us in NYC 4 years ago and I want them to know that I am returning the favor through a donation.
Wendi (Brooklyn NY)
Just want to say, very good and very personable coverage. It is always good to see a reporter
have a sense of humility in his reporting. It must be totally heart-breaking to do this coverage. I feel only a humble heart within can bring forth the results of this storm and convey the loss of these people. Great job Rick. God bless you buddy.
You are doing really great work in Biloxi. Your commentary is excellent showing the true stories the people are going through in Biloxi.
You can never know how much you are appreciated. The reporting you have done on the hurricane is bringing home the sorrow and tradgedy happening to our friends in neighboring states. It is very obvious it's not just a job you are doing. You have your heart and soul in your reporting. I say a prayer for you each time I see you reporting that you'll be safe and have your needs taken care of. Thank you again for giving us the Human side, not just the reporter side.
Little Rock, AR
When devastation like this (Katrina) occurs, it really serves to put everything into perspective. All the daily ugliness over our own selfish concerns, even if those are the most important concerns to us, pale in comparison to the indescribable horror we are viewing right now. Just know, Rick, how much you are appreciated for the work you do!
Have you seen Atkinson Road in Biloxi? It is close to the Bay side. I have an elderly Aunt and Uncle that stayed there. Our family is desperately awaiting word on their lives.
Good luck, Rick! Stay safe down there in the hurricane territories! You're doing a great job with the reports. I've been a fan of yours for a long time.
Valarie in Ohio
My sister and her family live in the Windance subdivision, Orange Grove area of Gulfport, most news crews are covering close to the beaches only, we would love to hear about further out. My sister and her husband and two sons and daughter-in-law with their 3-month-old grandbaby are there. We have not heard from them since 12:00pm on Tuesday during the beginnings of Katrina hitting. Other family further out hwy 49 lost their homes so needless to say we would love a report on the other side of I-10. My sister is a State Farm Agent in Gulfport and felt she needed to stay because of her responsibility. Her name is Teri Eaton. If ya'll can send a crew over that way, it would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for your coverage of the Biloxi and Gulfport areas, we love Fox News at this house and it is all we ever watch to get the real truth about what is going on in the world! WE APPRECIATE YOUR WORK AND DEDICATION TO THE PEOPLE OF AMERICA!!!!
I cannot imagine what it must be like to see the things that are you are witnessing in person. Just seeing it on the news is devastating. It is difficult to see so much suffering & know there is not much I can do but donate money. Just doesn't seem like that's nearly enough.
Thank you so much. You have shown courage & kindness in your coverage. Thank the Lord for Fox. It's the best hurricane coverage I've ever seen. I worry about all of you there, especially those correspondents, anchors, and all of their crews who are stuck with no gas, places to
sleep, etc... & possibly having no way out of New Orleans. I am praying for everyone affected by this mess. God bless you. Stay safe.
Round Rock, TX
Hi Rick! Incredible reporting! As is the norm FOX provides the best coverage of this horrible event! My thoughts and prayers are with those poor souls going through such an unimaginable crisis! Watching from the safety and comfort of my home in upstate NY, gives me the feeling I am seeing a third world country! You and your crew stay safe, and again great job!!! P.S., how ever are you finding the time to write your blog???
You and your crew are doing a great job at much personal risk to all of you. I watched you in Iraq and admire your guts greatly. YOU GUYS are our only info and thanks isn't enough to say . We have you in our prayers also.
I know you have thousands of e-mails that you can't respond to and I just hope you read this one. The railroads are a watermark for many people - my brother especially. We did hear you say south of the railroad was destroyed but what about north of it in Gulfport ( my brother's home is on 20th street)? We get conflicting reports.
FOX is all we watch - I really need a 12 step program (my family says) we even listen to it 24/7 on XM. I just had to try and see if you get this and can get info on north of the rail tracks in Gulfport especially. You guys get done there and anytime you may get to Greenville, MS I will treat you and your crew to the best steak /catfish/bbq or whatever you want - FOX ROCKS !! Bring that Ole Miss Rebel with you - I'll even feed Shep even though I am a MS State Bulldog. Stay safe.
Rick Leventhal currently serves as New York-based senior correspondent for Fox News Channel (FNC). He joined the network as a correspondent in 1997.