Dr. Stephen Sloan accepted the position of Assistant Director of the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage in 2003. In this episode, he discusses those years and how his tenure was shaped by the arrival of Hurricane Katrina in September of 2005. Sloan begins the conversation with memories of how his family survived the storm and the cleanup that followed.
Soon after Katrina, the COHCH began conducting oral history interviews of the survivors. Sloan describes the need for such a project and the positive response it received. Based in part on those experiences, Sloan co-authored a book on conducting post-crisis oral history projects. In Listening on the Edge: Oral History in the Aftermath of Crisis, he reflects on the need to protect the mental health of interviewers, as well as the interviewees.
In 2007, Dr. Sloan left the Center to become Director of the Institute for Oral History at Baylor University. He recalls fondly his time at USM and how it shaped his career.
David Baria and his wife decided to move their family to Bay Saint Louis in the spring of 2004. In this episode, taken from his 2008 interview, he recalls their idyllic life on the Gulf Coast, prior to the arrival of Hurricane Katrina the following year.
On August 28, 2005, people began fleeing the Gulf Coast area as Katrina approached. Baria remembers the challenges his family faced as they prepared for its arrival. After riding out the storm at his brother’s home, Baria, his brother and uncle rode down to Bay Saint Louis to survey the damage. It was then he realized their historic home, which had withstood many storms since 1875, had been completely wiped away.
They quickly developed a plan to help survivors by setting up a distribution network of water, fuel, food, clothing, medicines and cleaning supplies and then got to work. Unfortunately, just ten days later, Baria’s son was hospitalized with a mysterious illness. The child was in a coma for over a week before succumbing to what turned out to be rabies.
The family was determined to remain on the Gulf Coast and rebuild their lives. Baria began attending meetings of local citizen groups concerned with such issues as insurance companies that refused to honor homeowner policies and proposed building codes. He explains how a perceived lack of leadership inspired him to run for the State Senate.
David Baria served in the Mississippi Senate from 2008 to 2012 and is currently a member of the Mississippi House of Representatives from the 122nd district.
Last week, Mississippians remembered Hurricane Katrina on the thirteenth anniversary of the massive storm’s slow march up the length of our state. Considered the most destructive natural disaster in our nation’s history, it sparked a series of recovery efforts that would be measured in days, weeks, months and years. Thousands of lives would be interrupted, many drastically so. Some for only a brief time, some permanently.
While clean-up of the millions of tons of debris left in Katrina’s wake seemed like an effort that would take many years, much of it was accomplished at an astonishing rate. On the surface, a sense of normality crept in and with it, an alleviation of the emotional and mental stress such disasters visit upon the survivors. Feelings of hopelessness, depression and despair are not forgotten, but hard to convey years later.
To fully recall those stressful emotions, revisiting the interviews of first-responders conducted in the days that followed is helpful. In those recordings, the raw angst can be heard in a way not possible with the written word. For this episode, we turn to an in-the-moment account of a key decision maker in the South Mississippi relief effort: Barbra K. "Babs" Faulk.
As Director of the South-Central Mississippi Chapter of the American Red Cross, Babs Faulk coordinated the relief agency’s response to Hurricane Katrina. In the aftermath, the Red Cross served over half a million meals to those in need. Faulk discusses the agency's response and the importance of volunteers to the relief effort.
In this interview, conducted just two months after the storm, she recalls how they prepared to meet the challenge. As the head quarter's phones constantly drone in the background, the weariness and heartache of the previous eight weeks is unmistakable as she shoulders the blame for those they couldn't help.
The ferocity and devastation of Hurricane Katrina caught many Mississippians by surprise. Faulk’s frustration with the often lackadaisical response of many to impending disasters is apparent as she emphasizes the importance of hurricane preparedness and personal responsibility.
The disruption caused by the storm took an emotional toll on the survivors, but also on the relief workers and first-responders, themselves. Faulk reflects on the need for mental health workers and the long journey to recovery that lay before them in November 2005.
In August of 2005, Angelia Gray was the Food and Beverage Director of a Hattiesburg hotel. In this episode, she explains how she and the rest of the hotel staff prepared for the arrival of Hurricane Katrina as the hotel began to fill up with evacuees. Gray recalls riding out the storm and caring for their guests.
After Katrina was over, Gray had to cook for the all the guests. She explains how she was able to feed so many people without electricity or water.
Of that experience, Gray remembers the spirit of cooperation among most of the guests and the bad behavior of a few.