Posted at 10:32 AM
So we stopped in Memphis last night at a hotel…but it was full. So we grabbed our laptops (boy are we resourceful little journalists!), sat in the lobby and used the free wireless Internet to start hotel hunting. At first they were saying we would have to drive 30 to 60 miles back NORTH (the way we came!), but we got lucky and Erin found a hotel with one room left (keep in mind, it was 1:30-2:00am when we were doing all of this) about 15 or 20 minutes away.
We woke up, showered (last shower for who knows how long?!!! ? ), and went to grab breakfast in the lobby. But I didn’t ever eat breakfast- there were 30 people in a room with just three small tables, and the moment they found out we were reporters, we had several people literally YELLING their personal stories at us all at once. It was very overwhelming, and we sat there for nearly two hours fielding questions and requests to rescue their loved ones. We talked to truck drivers and software developers, people from all socio-economic classes- everyone was just sitting there and waiting. All of them were giving us names and addresses of family and friends stuck in New Orleans, and most of them had heard nothing since the storm passed through Monday. All of them were worried- they had obviously been through a lot, but they were in remarkably high spirits considering what they had been through.
On woman we talked to was wearing her 16 year old daughter’s T-shirt, because she had packed hardly any clothes. She told us she hadn’t planned to evacuate, but Sunday morning when the news came in that Katrina had been upgraded to a Category 5, they just threw what they could in the car and left. They had no idea what conditions their homes were in, and were desperately waiting for news from the floods. And apparently we weren’t the only people who had issues finding a hotel room- the same woman told me they stopped at more than 40 different hotels before finding a room.
At another point in the breakfast madness in the lobby, two men came bursting through the door, dragging a guy in with them. They basically pushed him in my face and told him to tell me what he said to them. Essentially, he told me that he was told that once the pumps in New Orleans stopped working, it would take up to 120 days to rebuild them. I haven’t been able to check that fact yet, but it left me wondering what the condition of the city will be. The governor of Louisiana said last night that the evacuees should plan to be away from their homes for up to a month. There was a lot of concern expressed from people this morning wondering what help they were going to receive after evacuating. They told me they simply couldn’t afford a hotel and food for a month and are waiting to hear what can be done.
It is proving to be difficult to hear these stories and not get caught up in the emotional aspect of it. I realize I cannot be emotionless, but I can’t get my heartstrings tied up in every story I hear, or I won’t accomplish anything.
We sat in the car last night listening to satellite radio, flipping back and forth from Fox to CNN to MSNBC to NPR, waiting for anything that would tell us where we should go and what we would find there. Reports of New Orleans being up to 15 feet under water soon, looters shooting law enforcement officers, and highways being collapsed into the Gulf were all a little intimidating to hear knowing that ultimately we need to end up in that area, regardless of some of the danger involved. But we have since heard from the Missourian newsroom and pretty much have ruled New Orleans out. The only pictures anyone is really seeing right now from the news wires are aerials, which leads me to believe that it’s next to impossible for anyone to get in the city, let alone get around and photograph. But there is still looting and danger in Gulfport - just not with as much water on the ground.
For now, we have left Memphis and are driving south to Jackson, Mississippi. The highways south of Jackson are closed off to the public, but we have heard from another photojournalist that our press credentials might be enough to allow us access to U.S. 49 South, which would take us through to Hattiesburg and onward to Gulfport. Its strange to not know exactly where we are headed, where we’ll end up, or what we’ll find there, but after hearing what I did from the people this morning, I am so anxious to get down there and find some news.