Five years ago this week, I covered the unfolding disaster in New Orleans from the Katrina flooding in a frequently updated blog at Editor & Publisher magazine, where I served as editor. Day and night I found chilling reports and cries for help mainly at the blogs and readers’ forums at the Times-Picayune site (which never went down) and local TV station WWL. This curating drew hundreds of thousands of readers, many of them still in New Orleans or recently evacuated and searching desperately for word, any word, about neighborhoods and in some cases loved ones left behind.
Here’s some of what I reported on "day three" of the disaster, five years ago today, August 31, 2005. It only got worse. Much worse.
9:55 AM ET. The Times-Picayune, which has relocated to Houma, published online-only again today, this time with a thirteen-page PDF version. The banner head reads: UNDER WATER.
Latest update from the paper’s website: "The catastrophic flooding that filled the bowl that is New Orleans on Monday and Tuesday will only get worse over the next few days because rainfall from Hurricane Katrina continues to flow into Lake Pontchartrain from north shore rivers and streams, and east winds and a 17.5-foot storm crest on the Pearl River block the outflow water through the Rigolets and Chef Menteur Pass."
11:25 AM ET. Latest item, from the Times-Picayune: "It’s an emotional time for everyone in south Louisiana—the media included. During a reading of odds and ends on WWL-TV this morning, Eric Paulson noted that St. Bernard Parish is entirely ‘gone.’ It brought a moment of almost stunned silence among him, Meg Farris, and Sally Ann Roberts—followed by a heavy, audible sigh."
12:20 PM ET. From the Times-Picayune, a brief item titled "Floating the Dead": "WWL-TV reporter Karen Swensen related a particularly sad tale from a region overflowing with sad tales. One New Orleans woman waded through the streets of the city, trying to get her husband to Charity Hospital. He had died earlier and she floated his body through the inundated streets on a door that dome off their home."
1:05 PM ET. The vital Katrina blog at WWL-TV in New Orleans has just provided these chilling reports from Jefferson Parish emergency services director Walter Maestri: "Director Walter Maestri: We have no food or water for the evacuees. Says emergency workers have seized the food and water and drinks from Sam’s Club, Wal-Mart and other groceries for evacuees, but he said that is all gone. Says water supply is gone. More water expected, but its not there right now. Says evacuees are getting upset and harried.… FEMA and national agencies not delivering the help nearly as fast as it is needed.… Evacuees from New Orleans and the east bank of Jefferson are flocking to the west bank, overwhelming the facilities."
WWL also reports: "Roving bands of looters are breaking into stores in Carrollton area to get food and supplies. They’ve also stolen guns and armed themselves."
3:40 PM ET. The most chilling report yet, long dreaded, just posted at the Times-Picayune: "The mayor said Wednesday that Hurricane Katrina probably killed thousands of people in New Orleans. ‘We know there is a significant number of dead bodies in the water,’ and others dead in attics, Mayor Ray Nagin said. Asked how many, he said: ‘Minimum, hundreds. Most likely, thousands.’"
5:20 PM ET. A soldier in Iraq writes in a Times-Picayune forum: "Hello my name is Christopher Ducote and i am a Sgt. in the U.S army in iraq. I am from Chalmette La. It’s a very hard thing to be here and only be able to watch whats going on there on the tv. luckly my wife and kids got out and went to fla. before it hit, but now i am worried about my father because i dont know it he evacuated or not. I know that with every thing thats going on there its hard to find out anything about anyone, and i know that i am no different, but if anyone has any info please email me.
"And dad if you should happen to read this somewhere i want u to know that i love u very much."
From the same forum: "I am writing for a friend, Marlena Template who evacuated New Orleans with her family and is safe. She has been in contact with her friend, Kristy Smith, an employee at Kindred Hospital in New Orleans and is concerned about conditions there. The generator is not working. Staff and patients need help!! Please try to get authorities there ASAP!!"
8:40 PM ET From the Times-Picayune:"Neighbors in the area near Hickory and Short streets Uptown said a body has been floating nearby in five feet of water since the unidentified man was shot five times on Monday. Neighbors said the shooting was reported, but police and other officials apparently have been unable to respond."