August 29th, 2008
12:15 PM ET

My hometown: Katrina's real Ground Zero

A look back, as Anderson Cooper takes us to Waveland, Mississippi, 30 days after it was devastated by Hurricane Katrina
A look back, as Anderson Cooper takes us to Waveland, Mississippi, 30 days after it was devastated by Hurricane Katrina

Editor's Note: In the week after hurricane Katrina struck, Waveland, Mississippi was a wasteland. Dead bodies lay in the street for the days. Many of those who managed to survive the storm lost everything. We caught up with one family we met; the Kearney’s to see how they were recovering. The Kearney's sends us this blog:

Charles Kearney
Former resident of Waveland, Mississippi

On the eve of the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina I find myself in a myriad of emotions. Currently there are two named storms being tracked with one showing a very similar landing as Katrina.

My wife has already gathered up all of the insurance papers, important documents, precious photos, etc. and has expressed interest in Valium. (This is a woman who rarely takes an aspirin.)

The flood of memories that she has experienced while preparing for another possible storm, are a bit overwhelming. The kids, wanting to help their mom, have gathered all their most important toys and brought them upstairs.

As I drive through Waveland, Bay St Louis, Gulfport, Biloxi, and New Orleans, during my travels for work, I am amazed at how much work is still yet to be done before things are a semblance of what they were. So many homes have still not been touched since the storm. Where are these people now?

My parents just moved into their newly built home in April, two years and eight months after Katrina. A friend of mine is finally scheduled to move into her rebuilt home on 8/29, three years to the day after Katrina. She has spent much of her life savings on it, and incurred another mortgage, something she did not have pre-Katrina. She and her husband have lived with her mother since the storm…

I travel to New Orleans and go by the house I grew up in and am saddened at its deplorable state, simply gutted and left after Katrina. The neighbors I grew up with have rebuilt, and Mr. Pat Dehon insisted on the same red color he had before the storm. The resiliency of people amaze me; under the immense stress and grind of day-to-day life in the region.

I often travel out of state and still get furious to here people say "Everything’s back to normal in New Orleans". "Those people were fools as they should have left". It is even more disheartening to realize that most people have no idea of where Waveland is… Even fewer realize that over 85% of my town was destroyed. We were ground zero....

On a brighter note, my family is very resilient, and we will deal with whatever storm comes our way. We will never forget the overwhelming show of humanity and generosity by strangers.

The volunteer groups still come to help and their faces remain fixed in my brain. My children are growing, healthy, and beautiful. My wife may be a bit stressed but she knows what to do. She has taken care of the kids, remains the organized genius when it comes to hurricane evacuation, and keeps me on the right path daily.

These days, I am very grateful for those I have in my life and we all realize what is really important in life… family!

Stuff is just that, stuff.

Filed under: Hurricane Katrina
soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. anne,newfoundland,canada


    Best of luck to your family.
    I remember your mother's sense of humor,even in the face of all the misery.Anderson had talked about your parents in his book.

    One thing I remember most about them?

    During one of Anderson's Katrina specials,I believe it was the first anniversary.....

    he was updating on people he had met,and was doing a story on your parents.........there was nothing left but the foundation where their home once stood........

    As he approached,your mother and he embraced,and hugged each other........

    every time I see that photo,I STILL tear up.

    Good luck and good thoughts to all of you.

    August 31, 2008 at 6:43 am |
  2. Susan Warren

    Charles et all.. I remeber the day I was able to see you guys on Anderson Cooper live from Waveland. With no phone service and very little communication it was very emotional. To see my family and the devistation you suffered was enough to break your heart. I was in a waiting room of a hospital and told everyone to hush because it was my family on TV and you could have heard a pin drop! Keep the faith. Love you from the Texas coast! Make sure your Mom gets her rocks!

    August 29, 2008 at 11:09 pm |
  3. Annie Kate


    I certainly hope Waveland doesn't get struck again. I remember the coverage from there 3 years ago and it was just stunning how a town could almost be wiped off the map by the storm. I felt for each and every one of you and I admire all who have gone back and rebuilt. You have more resilience than I would have. Good luck this time and if Waveland gets hit again let us know how you and your family make out. Waveland and its families are in my thoughts...best of luck.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    August 29, 2008 at 9:56 pm |
  4. Stacy

    On a brighter note, my family is very resilient, and we will deal with whatever storm comes our way.

    Hi Charles. I remember watching your story on CNN and being inspired at your family's show of strength in the midst of utter devastation. Your mother Myrtle's sense of humor will no doubt always be a part of my memories of what happened to the people of the gulf. (Does she still collect rocks?)

    I will be thinking about you as Gustav approaches. Please remember that though some may moved on in regards to what happened to your town, or never even knew in the first place, there are still those of us out there that will never forget the devastation, or the people, of Waveland, Mississippi.

    August 29, 2008 at 5:16 pm |
  5. Sarah, New Orleans


    Actually the upkeep of the levees belongs to the Federal Government. After all the Mississippi is the largest river in the U.S. and a major thoroughfare for transporting goods in the U.S. and out into the world. Maintenance of all the levees in all the states along the Mississippi are the Federal government’s responsibility.

    In all the In July 2007, the American Society of Civil Engineers released a report stating the levee failures were due to a design flaw by "the US Army Corps of Engineers, who by federal mandate is responsible for the conception, design and construction of the region's flood-control system failed to pay sufficient attention to public safety." That is the UNITED STATES Army Corps of Engineers, not the Louisiana or the New Orleans Army Corps of Engineers.

    August 29, 2008 at 4:01 pm |
  6. JC- Los Angeles

    In an ever increasing materialistic nation, it's refreshing to think of the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast and draw strength from the resiliency, perserverance, hope and accomplishment that they have displayed over the past three years.

    At first, the story might have been about the media beating the Federal Government to the scene and exposing our leaders as worthless frauds; however, after a very short time, we came to realize that the real story was about the people of the Gulf Coast and their unwillingness to let anything stand in the way of rebirth.

    August 29, 2008 at 2:17 pm |
  7. Nancy Moreland

    I just heard on HDLN that Katrina flooded New Orleans, I really take issue with blaming a storm that did not directly hit the city as being to blame for its problems. My heart, and pocket book went out to the people who were devastated by the floods, but let's put the blame where it belongs. If the levees had held, there would have been no flooding. Who was responsible for the upkeep? The governor and mayor. I will admit to thinking it was quite cavalier to suggest to inner city dwellers to go to the super dome as if they were gong camping for 3 days (the mayor), my understanding is that school buses were available for evacuations, the mayor, again, did not think it was good enough, money had been allocated by the government to repair the levees, what happened there? If the mayor and governor had taken the storm as seriously as the weather channel people, there would have been much less suffering. Storms just do what they do, politicians do what promotes their agendas.

    August 29, 2008 at 1:40 pm |
  8. Tiff H

    Thank you for posting this article. I'm from Biloxi, MS and it kills me to only see New Orleans in the news when I know that the majority of the damage happened in MS. So thank you for assisting to educate the American public.

    August 29, 2008 at 1:39 pm |
  9. Joy Hird

    As a native of Gulfport, my bitterness at the lack of coverage of the MS coast has not eased much over the last 3 years. It's true that with every trip "home" I can see improvement, but the devastation was so immense, things will never be the same. I used to love New Orleans. Lived there for a while. Now, the mention of New Orleans just makes me nauseated.

    August 29, 2008 at 1:30 pm |
  10. RENEE

    Thank you, people forget how hard it is to come back from something like Katrina. My brother lived in Metairie, LA until a month before Katrina, I'm thankful everyday that he had moved when he did. It's true the most importants things are our families, the rest is just stuff.

    August 29, 2008 at 1:06 pm |
  11. Hannah Storm

    Charles, I remember reading about you and your family in Anderson's book. I pray for you and your family and all those in the Gulf Coast right now.

    August 29, 2008 at 12:46 pm |