Safe Rooms Save Lives

By John Zarrella – Former CNN Correspondent

I had been in Oklahoma City (OKC) for just over a week. It was 1995. Spring, a time for rebirth, was put on hold and buried beneath crumbled concrete and shattered lives. Many of us had gone in to cover the aftermath of the bombing at the Murray Federal Building. Crews and reporters had been rotating in and out since the horrific April 19th attack.

By now, April had turned to May. The seventh was a quiet Sunday. We were staffing the CNN workspace in case there were any developments on the bombing. But the story that day centered more on the weather. The local stations were reporting that the atmosphere was ripe for supercells. They were right.

By midafternoon, bulletins were coming in of a half-mile-wide tornado on the ground west of Ardmore, a city one hundred miles to the south of OKC. This tornado dissipated after killing an elderly man and injuring several other people.  But this supercell wasn’t done. It recycled and a second tornado, just as big, dropped out of the sky crossing the Red River and heading toward Ardmore.

We were nearly two hours away, but there was no question we had to go. This could be really bad. I had chased plenty of hurricanes over the years but never a tornado. I kept scanning the landscape around us, half believing that I’d see one suddenly appear. I remember as we drove south thinking just how strange the clouds looked and that the colors were an eerie cotton candy—unlike any I’d seen in Florida.  A Michelin tire factory had reportedly been hit hard, and we headed there first. Of course, by the time we arrived, the tornado was gone. The tornado also damaged some nearby buildings on the outskirts of Ardmore but lifted up just before it reached the heart of the city. They were fortunate that day. Combined the two tornadoes were on the ground for about a combined sixty miles.

Fast forward twenty years, and I’m suddenly connected back to that Spring in OKC. Pataya Scott, a PHD candidate at Texas Tech University told me growing up in Oklahoma City she had spent, “lots of time in a closet under the stairs.” Pataya was one of several brilliant University students at the FLASH Annual Conference giving presentations on their work in various fields of disaster mitigation.

These students were studying roofing systems, human behavior and response before and after disasters, communications, and hurricane winds. Pataya is studying the devastating 2011 Joplin, Missouri tornado. She explained, “I’ll be looking at remote sensing data on damage from the Joplin tornado so things like aerial photos, drive by photos, and Google street views seeing the level of damage for each building. So, it’s going to take a lot of time analyzing all those six thousand documented damaged buildings.”

On the ground for twenty-two miles and thirty-eight minutes, the 2011 Joplin, Missouri tornado killed nearly 160 people. Pataya is focusing on construction, wind direction, materials, and architecture; and is determining what kind of buildings hold up better, for instance homes with attached garages and those without.

“Two story buildings area usually more robust so they’re going to do a little better than one story, but how much better is what I’m going to see,” she says. Pataya is just now finishing up the database. Time to start answering the questions!

In listening to Pataya’s work, I was immediately struck by how far the disaster mitigation movement has come in twenty years. Sure, there was talk about it back in 1995, three years after Hurricane Andrew. That storm was the wake-up call. But today, mitigation addresses all perils.

Dr. Ernst Kiesling has spent a lifetime studying tornado mitigation. Shelters are his expertise. “I would have thought in terms of storm shelters we’d be a little further along,” he says, “But overall, I’m grateful for the progress.  We’ve taken a lot of steps, lots of small steps.  We’re getting there.”

As we ramp up toward the height of tornado season, Kiesling says it’s a double edged sword. “We worry about the vulnerability of communities, but also take heart that there is an increase in interest in tornado shelters and improved construction. So, there’s good news and bad news with that because we certainly see with every major tornado an uptick in public consciousness of safety and increased sales in storm shelters and better readiness for the future.”

However, he warns that not all that glitters is gold. Consumers need to carefully consider what they are getting when purchasing a shelter. “There are excellent products available, but there’s also a lot of stuff that’s not good on the market. We have a real problem in quality control and requiring standard compliance, and it’s not a regulated industry.”

Back in 1995, the people of Ardmore were very fortunate. They got lucky. But today, science, engineering, and public awareness is finally beginning to remove luck from the equation. As Dr. Kiesling says, “we’re doing pretty darn well.”

Related Links 

Community Tornado Shelter “Absolutely Saved Lives” in Alabama 

Tale of Two Homes – Tornado 

Keep Calm, Be Prepared, and El Niño On

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By John Zarrella – Former CNN Correspondent

El Niño – it means the child or the Christ Child in Spanish. However, the name is a terrible contradiction. El Niño conjures the image of a beautiful, cherubic baby. It is certainly not that. One climatologist describes this weather phenomenon as, “mudslides in Los Angeles and golfing in Minneapolis. And there can be a lot of chaos in between.”

Well, what is an El Niño? An El Niño is a warming of the Equatorial Pacific waters. Fishermen in South America gave it the name El Niño because the waters would get warm around Christmas time and the fish would disappear. These days, everybody seems to be talking about it. You can’t pick up a paper or turn on the news without seeing a story. In fact, as I was writing this, an old friend at CBS was doing a piece on it for Sunday Morning. Clearly, El Niño is already a headline maker, and it hasn’t yet kicked into full throttle.

NASA climatologist Bill Patzert at the Jet Propulsion Lab in California has likened this one to one of the all-time greatest monsters, “It’s truly the Godzilla El Niño,” Patzert told me. If it is not the most powerful yet, he believes it soon will be based on the satellite images and data he’s analyzing. And, this El Niño may have played a role in the recent deadly tornadoes in the South and the short sleeve and shorts winter weather in the Northeast.

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So why so much interest now? In a word: worry. Really intense El Niño events seem to take place about every 15 years give or take: 1982-83, 1997-98, which is the strongest to date. They have profound impacts on the weather, flooding and mudslides in California; wet, turbulent weather in Texas and along the Gulf Coast; and warm conditions in the Northeast. “So all the pieces on the weather board are rearranged and there’s a lot of volatility not just in the U.S. but across the planet,” according to Patzert.

That volatility left 42 people dead and 260 injured in Central Florida in February 1998. Seven tornadoes touched down overnight during the worst outbreak ever in the state.

Is that or something similar going to happen again? No one knows because as Mike Halpert says, “No two El Niño’s are alike.”

Halpert is Deputy Director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.  The scientists there measure El Niño’s strength not only by the ocean’s heat but how the atmosphere is reacting to it.  Halpert said, “What we think is really more important isn’t what the ocean does, it’s what the atmosphere overlying the ocean does because, that’s what kicks off the rest of the impacts globally.”

So far, Harpert says, this El Niño is weaker in the atmosphere than the two previous big El Niño events.  Does that mean the impacts will be less severe? Possibly but, there’s no way to know. Why?  Halpert says there just isn’t enough of an El Niño sample size.  He added, “We don’t have good data that goes back thousands of years. I mean we haven’t seen that many of these kinds of things.”

Frankly, it really does not matter where this occurrence of El Niño lands in the power rankings. It’s all about when the dust settles, how bad was it? We’ve already seen the first glimpses. And even though the sample size is small, there’s enough historical data, scientists say, to tell us we need to be prepared.

There’s still time to get prepared, but don’t put it off any longer. Start by making sure you have a NOAA weather radio, plus a smartphone app like FLASH Weather Alerts that includes “follow me” technology and text-to-speech alerting. You can select alerts for all the different weather hazards, including flood, freeze, and tornadoes.

If you know your area is prone to flooding or mudslides, remember “Turn Around, Don’t Drown”, and never cross a flooded roadway. Keep sandbags on hand, and make sure you have up-to-date flood insurance. Do you have emergency supplies on hand including bottled water? You need to! Have you taken a recent inventory of everything you own? If not, do it now. If you are in a tornado threat area, consider installing a tornado safe room or shelter, but make sure it is either built using FEMA 320 or the ICC 500 standard.

For the U.S., the big “worry” months have just arrived. “Beginning in January and February”, Patzert told me, “we should see a convoy of storms coming straight out of the Western Pacific slamming into California and Southwest Texas and these storms actually get pumped up as they go over the Northern Gulf of Mexico and some of the worst damage may be in Florida.”

For all the misery El Niño can dish out, there are a couple plusses. Scientists say it won’t end the drought in California but it should make a dent, and a warm winter saves the U.S. billions in heating costs.

The experts believe this El Niño will likely last into the late spring and could linger into early summer. What comes next? Halpert says, “It’s a good bet that when this El Niño ends the next thing we have will be a La Niña.” During a La Niña, the waters in the Pacific cool off, and the weather patterns change. Where El Niño events put a lid on Atlantic Hurricanes, La Niña’s are like muscle milk to Atlantic storms! Hurricane Season could become interesting.

Related Links

Flash Weather Alerts App – Mobilize Your Weather Radio

How to Protect Your Home from Flood Damage

Jet Propulsion Lab

“Turn Around, Don’t Drown

Which Tornado Safe Room is Right for You?

Hurricane Center Director Deconstructs “Lite” Season

By John Zarrella – Former CNN Correspondent

It’s over. Put a fork in it. The 2015 Hurricane season is done. You get six months to exhale unless something crazy stupid happens! No more looking over the shoulder out into the Atlantic or Gulf wondering if that puff of clouds might grow into the next named storm. No more wondering if this might be the year your town or city’s luck runs out.

Unfortunately we, the collective we who live in harm’s way, don’t really seem to wonder near enough. And if you’re not wondering then you’re certainly not doing much to prepare. Over the years, study after study has shown most folks living along the coastal United States from Maine to Texas don’t give hurricanes much thought until one is about to beat down their door.

And that is troubling to the experts. I talked recently with National Hurricane Center Director Rick Knabb. “I fear that so many coastal and inland residents at risk to wind and water hazards have forgotten how to get ready for the next hurricane season. We must take action now to survive the storm and be resilient in the aftermath.”

Sadly, it’s the same refrain Knabb’s predecessors shared with me over and over again, decade after decade. Whether it was Bob Sheets or Max Mayfield or Bill Read or Jerry Jarrell and all the way back to Neil Frank the fear was people were not paying attention. Bottom line, not much has changed. The directors talk, we don’t listen.

Sure there are spikes in attention the season after a big one hits like an Andrew, Hugo, or Katrina. But then you get a few years in a row of relative calm and we, that collective we again, fall back into our old complacency. For every Hurricane Center director, complacency was the first ingredient in that recipe for disaster.

Knabb says one of his great frustrations is that it really doesn’t take a whole lot of heavy lifting to be ready, “Here’s a start to your hurricane resilience to do list: create an evacuation plan, buy supplies, update insurance, including flood, and strengthen your home.”

So, why put it off? Now that you can exhale, now that the season is over, there’s no better time to get your plan together. For thirty-five years going back to David and Frederick in 1979, I have covered hurricanes. The common denominator in every, single storm was last minute panic. There were no exceptions. You’ve seen the images, cars backed up for miles as people flee the storm. Supermarkets wiped out. How about the long, long endless lines that snaked around gas stations? The guy with the plywood sheets roped down to his compact car. And that’s just before the storm hits! Really? Do you look forward to that?

No one can tell you what next season will bring. Who could have predicted Florida, the peninsula that sticks out like a sore thumb would have gone ten years without a hurricane? Director Knabb says that doesn’t change his outlook, “I don’t know how much longer we have until we get another Florida hurricane, but they’re coming back at some point. I live in Florida, and I’m going to continue to plan every year as if my house could be hit by a hurricane.”

2015 was an El Nino year. Strong winds helped keep a lid on hurricane activity and shielded the U.S. mainland. But as Knabb says, it didn’t shield the Bahamas from Joaquin. “Do you think the people in the Bahamas care about how many numbers of storms there were this year? They care that they got hit. And that really is at the end of the day all that matters. And we can get hit in any year. We can get hit in any era, El Nino or not, and everybody tends to look for this thing that they can hang their hat on and say ‘ok, this season it’s not my problem’, but it is our problem every year.”

Here’s a case in point from the Zarrella personal experience archives. This hurricane season ended with eleven named storms. The last was November’s Hurricane Kate which turned away from land. Thirty years ago, the 1985 season ended with eleven named storms. You know the name of the eleventh? Kate. It too was a November hurricane. But, it didn’t turn out to sea.

My crew and I were in an RV. I probably should have thought that one through a little more! But, back in those days, the dark ages of television, we didn’t have satellite trucks lined up every few miles along the coastline. The RV was our production facility on wheels. We loaded it with food, camera equipment, and edit machines. We could shoot, write, and edit our stories all in one place and then drive to a feed point. It worked just fine until November 21.

We were heading down a two lane road towards Mexico Beach, Florida in the Panhandle. Problem was category two Kate got there first. So here we are in this RV as the storm comes ashore. Pine trees are snapping. The rain hit the windshield so hard and heavy that you could see absolutely nothing. It was a white out. The RV was trembling. Looking out the side window, I saw the tin roof of a barn lift off, then sail across a field until it was blown to bits.

My cameramen Doug Hart and Rudy Marshall were yelling, “We’ve got to get back to that house we saw up the road.” The roar of the storm outside was so loud you had to yell. My editor Steve Sonnenblick was behind the wheel. He began backing the RV up the road. There was no way we could turn around. The wind and rain was hitting us head on. If we attempted to turn, the RV would have been broadsided, and I have no doubt, would have flipped.

I don’t know how far we drove in reverse. It may have been a half a mile or so. But when you are driving in reverse on a two lane road in the middle of a hurricane, it takes a whole heck of a lot longer than you want! When we got close enough, we left the RV on the side of the road, ran for the house, and started banging on the front door. The husband and wife were more than a little bewildered seeing four guys standing on their porch, but they graciously let us in to ride out the storm.

The point is, as Knabb and all the other National Hurricane Center Directors have repeated until they were blue in the face, you have to be ready. You need a plan whether it’s June, November, or anytime in between. Why risk your life or the lives of your loved ones. No one has a crystal ball. No one can tell you when or if. Director . Knabb says, “We learned this season that you can have really, really horrible impacts in what had been forecast to be a below average year and what has been an El Nino year.”

And by the way, we never rented an RV again to cover a hurricane!

Foam, Dome & Drip – Tips for Preventing Frozen Pipes

 

As freezing temperatures threaten, prevent frozen water pipes, one of the costliest threats to your home, with three easy steps:

#1: FOAM

#2: DOMEBurst pipe

#3: DRIP

FOAM: Insulate pipes exposed to the elements or cold drafts. For as little as $1 per 6’ of insulation, you can stop pipes from freezing and save energy. By keeping your water warmer, you reduce the amount of energy needed to heat water in the cold, winter months.

DOME: Place an insulating dome or other coverings on outdoor faucets and spigots to reduce the likelihood of water pipes freezing, expanding and causing a costly leak.

DRIP: Allow a slow drip from your faucets to reduce the buildup of pressure in the pipes. Even if the pipes freeze, the released pressure in the water system will reduce the likelihood of a rupture. If you are going out of town and suspect the temperature will drop, turn off the water and open all of the taps to drain the water system. This way pipes won’t
freeze and you won’t return home to a mess.

Your local home improvement store will have all of the tools and expertise you will need to complete these steps. FOAM, DOME, DRIP your way to a safe winter season free of costly home repairs.

For more information on protecting your home from extreme cold conditions, visit www.flash.org. To stay abreast of severe weather alerts and find more mitigation tips, download FLASH Weather Alerts at www.flashweatheralerts.org.

Hurricane Wilma – Distant Memory or Timely Reminder?

By John Zarrella – Former CNN Correspondent

The sign in front of the Ramada Inn Hotel in Pensacola, Florida stood on a pole about fifty feet off the ground. The manager at the front desk told us not to worry—it had withstood Hurricane Ivan the year before. That’s nice I thought, and proceeded to tell the camera crews not to park underneath it. Turned out that was good advice.

It was July 2005, the morning of July 10 to be exact. Anderson Cooper and his team had just rolled in from Panama City where one on air personality is reported to have said as they left, “dead men walking!” I guess that phrase is appropriate anytime you are planning to stand out in the middle of a hurricane.

Cooper and I would tag team this one together. That afternoon hurricane season 2005 kicked into gear, high gear as the “D” storm Dennis came ashore. As the storm hit, we huddled against a wall at the corner of the hotel. The wind blew, pine trees snapped and guess what, that Ramada Inn sign that had survived Ivan started spinning like a top, flew off its mounting, and crashed down in the parking lot. Chunks of razor sharp aluminum went airborne. Anyway, the video evidence of our “dead men walking” moment is still all over YouTube. Cooper

Of course, no one had a clue that Dennis was just foreshadowing worse storms to come, life altering events from Katrina to Rita and finally Wilma. So here we are approaching ten years since Wilma hit South Florida. And that means ten years of relative calm here, ten years of tropical tranquility.

My season of the stowilmarms had started with “D” and ended with “W.” Wilma, you may recall, had at one point 175 mile per hour sustained winds and the lowest barometric pressure ever recorded in the Atlantic Basin. It hammered the Yucatan Peninsula as a category four hurricane. Then it took a right turn, accelerated to the east, and made a beeline towards Florida.

Anderson and I were again joined at the rain slicker for Wilma. He emailed, asking where I thought we should be. I suggested Marco Island on the west coast close to where most folks thought it would make landfall. I was pretty close. The storm came ashore near Naples as a Category three hurricane. We were near the center of it. The eye took a good hour to pass over us on the morning of October 24. We stood out on the beach for this one. No Ramada Inn sign to worry about!

But, while I was right about landfall, I was really, really wrong about where the worst impact would be! The west coast made out pretty well, but the reports out of Broward and Palm Beach Counties on the east coast were not good. My own home in the town of Davie near Fort Lauderdale took a pretty good punch. Since I’m not a meteorologist I will spare you the meteorology. Why it did what it did is a good read from the real experts at the National Hurricane Center. For me, Wilma is the poster storm for why it’s critical to be prepared even if you don’t think you’re in much danger.

We left Marco Island at lunchtime and headed east across I-75. As we drove, I tried reaching my wife Robin, but the cell phone lines were jammed. I wasn’t terribly worried about my house. I had shuttered all the openings before leaving for Marco and we had a Miami-Dade hurricane code garage door. I knew my family would be safe. And, as a journalist who covered hurricanes I would have looked like an idiot if I hadn’t taken all the precautions to protect my home. We had plenty of food on hand too.

“What a mess”, was my first thought as I entered our neighborhood. Trees were down, power out and roofs were damaged. A gas grill ended up at the bottom of our friend’s swimming pool, later to be recovered by my sons and their friends who made considerable money in the days after cleaning up debris.

My family was just fine. But my wife warned that while the house looked good from the front, the back, well, not so much. There was a huge pine tree down by the lake. It snapped at the base but no, it couldn’t fall harmlessly into the lake, it had to fall on the screened enclosure over the pool. The enclosure crumbled and Wilma’s winds threw some of the beams onto the roof raking the tiles.

There wasn’t much I could do about any of this at the moment. Overall, it was just cosmetic damage. Close to six figures worth, but we were fortunate. And, I still had to work. That night Cooper and I were on the Larry King show. Much of Broward County and parts of Palm Beach County were a mess.

Here’s one of the great Wilma ironies. Florida prided itself on being the best prepared for hurricanes. Yet less than twenty-four hours after the storm, thousands of people were lined up for water and ice. Most gas stations were closed because they didn’t have generators. CNN sent in a fuel truck to keep us going. One hundred thousand people waited in lines for emergency food stamps.

One Broward official told me, “I think we need to do a better job on the ‘how to’ in their preparations.”

Some six million people were without power. If you didn’t have a generator you were in trouble. One of our friends living in Atlanta drove down with a couple for their family here. But, even if you had a portable generator, you couldn’t get fuel. A neighbor loaded gas cans in his truck and drove to Fort Myers to find it. At the time I remember wishing I had a standby generator that can run for more than a week. I do now!

So Wilma became known as the Urban Storm because it took out so many trees that took out so many power lines. Some people were without juice for close to a month. Ours came back on Halloween afternoon, eight days after Wilma hit. There was one bit of good fortune. The cold front that forced the hurricane to turn right and race across Florida pushed through right after the storm exited bringing cool, bearable October weather.

Six weeks later as Christmas approached, the Wilma effect resulted in an odd holiday shopping trend. The hottest selling gifts were coolers, flashlights, and propane powered stoves. A manager at Outdoor World told me, “We’ve had people come in here and actually buy for their kids three, four, five different types of stoves and they’re going to give them as Christmas gifts.”

One woman bought thirty, I’m not kidding, thirty lanterns. An author even wrote a book called the “Storm Gourmet Cook Book,” how to prepare good meals without power. It sold out just in time for Christmas.

It has now been a decade since Wilma and a decade since South Florida has been hit. You have to wonder with so much time for complacency to set in, would the result be any different now? Or would we again be Christmas shopping for propane stoves and storm cook books?

17 Flood Safety and Cleanup Tips from FLASH

1: Avoid flooded areas or those with rapid water flow. Do not attempt to cross a flowing stream. It takes only six inches of fast flowing water to sweep you off your feet.

2: Don’t allow children to play near high water, storm drains or ditches. Hidden dangers could lie beneath the water.

3: Flooded roads could have significant damage hidden by floodwaters. Remember, “Turn Around, Don’t Drown!”  Never drive through floodwaters or on flooded roads. Water only two feet deep can float away most automobiles.

4: Do not camp or park your vehicle along streams and washes, particularly when threatening conditions exist.

5: Be especially cautious at night when it is harder to see flooded roads.

After the Flood: Structural Considerations

6: Outside –

  • Check for building stability before entry – sticking doors at the top may indicate a ceiling at risk of collapse.
  • Check foundation for any loose or missing blocks, bricks, stones or mortar.

7: Inside

  • Assess stability of plaster and drywall – any bulging or swelling ceilings indicate damage that should be removed. Press upward on drywall ceilings. If nail heads appear, drywall will need to be re-nailed but can be saved.
  • To prevent warping of wooden doors, remove, and disinfect all knobs and hardware, and lay flat and allow to air dry completely.
  • Remove wet drywall and insulation well above the high water mark.

After the Flood: Insurance Tips  

8Take extensive photos and video for insurance claims. Only flood insurance typically covers damage from floods.

9: Remove damaged items from the home. If you need evidence of damage, save swatches (carpet, curtains, etc.) for your insurance adjuster

After the Flood: Mold & General Clean Up

10: Wash and disinfect all surfaces, including cupboard interiors with a solution of 1/2 cup bleach to two gallons of water. Remove sliding doors and windows before cleaning and disinfect the sliders and the tracks.

11: Clean and disinfect concrete surfaces using a mixture of TSP (trisodium phosphate) and water. Mix according to manufacturer’s directions and apply to entire surface.

12: Liquid cleaners can remove mud, silt, and greasy deposits. Liquid detergents work on washable textiles. Use diluted bleach if item is safe for bleach.

13: The National Archives has information on how to clean up your family treasures. Although it may be difficult to throw certain items away, especially those with sentimental value, experts recommend that if you can’t clean it, you should dispose of it, especially if it has come into contact with water that may contain sewage

After the Flood: Home air quality considerations and mold prevention

14: Clean and disinfect heating, air conditioning, and ventilation ducts before use to avoid spread of airborne germs and mold spores.

15: Use fans and allow in sunlight to dry out interior spaces.

16: To avoid growth of microorganisms, household items should be dried completely before they are brought back in the house. Although the drying process can take a long time, homeowners should be patient because it is necessary to keep a home’s air quality healthy. Some household items may take longer than others to dry, such as upholstered furniture and carpets.

17: Remove wallpaper and coverings that came into contact with floodwaters. Don’t repaint or repair until drying is complete and humidity levels in the home have dropped.

For information visit  FLASH or FEMA.

Hurricane Katrina Through the Lens of Former CNN Correspondent John Zarrella

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By John Zarrella

As Hurricane Katrina sideswiped New Orleans, windows blew out in the buildings next to our hotel on Common Street. Sheets of glass fell and shattered on the street.  Reams of paper flew out from the now breached office windows. It was like watching one of those old New York City ticker-tape parades.

As a reporter it was always frustrating covering hurricanes in the moment. Your field of vision is narrow. You can only report on what is happening around you. It is after the storm has passed when you get a better sense of the larger picture.

Katrina was different. In the late morning when the wind subsided, we drove out to get a better perspective of the damage. You know how some things always stick with you?  For me, on that day it was the drive along Elysian Fields Avenue. As we headed towards Lake Pontchartrain I kept thinking, “Why is there so much water?  It hadn’t rained that much during the storm.” At least, I didn’t think it had.

As we drove closer to the lake, the water kept getting higher. We stopped. An elderly man was sitting on his porch. With the water above our knees, my camera crew and I waded over to him. I asked, “Have you ever seen the water this high before?” “Not since Hurricane Betsy,” he said. Perhaps we were standing, and didn’t know it, in the first of the flood waters. To this day I still wonder.

That night, people poured out of the hotels along Canal Street. Many were locals who rather than stay in their homes during the storm got rooms in the French Quarter. They were smiling, laughing, and raising glasses. It was festive. New Orleans had dodged the bullet again they thought.

The next morning, I woke up, looked out my hotel room window and saw water and cars parked along the sidewalk bobbing in it. We all know what happened after that.

Recently, I went back to the Gulf Coast to work on a “Ten Years Later” story. I don’t care to call it an anniversary. For me, anniversaries should be reserved for happy occasions.

But, there are a couple of stories from my trip that really highlighted the human strength to, as William Faulkner wrote, “endure and prevail.”

After Katrina, Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi was called part of the forgotten coast. So much of the media attention went to New Orleans that places like Bay Saint Louis, Biloxi and Gulfport fell out of the spotlight rather quickly even though they took Katrina’s direct hit.

That was just fine Mayor Les Fillingame told me. “We didn’t want to let anybody see us bleeding.  We didn’t want to let anybody see us wounded. We, by and large, are to the person very proud.”

More than twenty feet of water covered Bay Saint Louis. There were, the Mayor told me only fifty homes out of forty-five hundred that were not completely destroyed. Today, the city is back. While I was there, there was street festival along the rebuilt waterfront. A truck drove around delivering bags of ice to keep drinks cold. A decade ago, you need ice here just to survive.

The wounds Katrina left behind have healed. There are of course still scars, an overgrown slab of concrete where a house once stood. But driving through the city you would never know what happened here a decade ago. The mayor says, this rebirth would never have been possible without the Federal Government, FEMA, and private donations that allowed Bay Saint Louis to build back better, stronger, and more resilient.  If there is a next time, Fillingame says they are far better prepared.

Last year, the city’s new marina opened. It was, Mayor Fillingame says, the “final piece” to the resurrection of Bay St. Louis. “We had a big grand opening and basically right then we kind of declared an end to the war. We declared an end to the war of Katrina and it had been fought in literally thousands of battles. Every individual home had their own battles. It was a battleground of its own. The city was a battleground.”

And now, the mayor told me, Katrina is in their rear view mirror. “Most people in Bay Saint Louis want it there and most people don’t like telling the story of Katrina. It was a bad chapter.”

Jesse Shaffer lived through not one but two bad chapters. Shaffer and his family lived outside New Orleans. When Katrina hit, ten feet of water flooded their neighborhood.  He and his neighbors rebuilt. “You live here and you don’t want to move away. You lose all your friends,” Shaffer said.

And not far from them, almost in their shadow, a massive concrete and steel flood wall was constructed to keep the water out in case it happened again.

Problem was, the Shaffer’s neighborhood was just outside the wall. And seven years to the day after Katrina, it did happen again. Hurricane Isaac. The old clock on the mantle stopped at five minutes to three in the morning when the water rose above it. This time, it wasn’t ten feet of water. It was fourteen feet. But unlike Katrina, the people here didn’t evacuate for Isaac. “It wouldn’t be, couldn’t be as bad,” they thought.

That night and part of the next day, Jesse Shaffer and his son saved lives. “A friend of mine had a boat on the other side of the wall and we launched it and we just started trying to get as many people out as we could.” “So how many people did you rescue?” I asked. “Between me and my son one hundred and twenty people. Two guys were floating on a spare tire.”

The Shaffer’s don’t live here anymore. Virtually no one else does either. Of the seventy-five or so homes in the neighborhood Shaffer says only one is being lived in.

What you see now along the Gulf Coast is a testament to the human spirit, a testament to our ability to endure and prevail. Communities were rebuilt. Lives were saved. A decade after the Katrina nightmare, the page has turned. But, make no mistake, the book is not yet closed. Everyone will tell you there is still much work to be done. Some of the hardest hit areas of New Orleans are far from healed, but there is progress. And for the people of Mississippi and Louisiana, they are starting to believe the storm has finally passed.