Reflecting on Katrina: A community journalist’s narrative

By Tonya Andris
Inside The Pew

Aug. 29, 2005, is an unforgettable day for Louisiana residents who were embroiled in or escaping the path of Hurricane Katrina.Katrina family

At the time of Katrina’s wrath and its aftermath, I was a general assignment reporter for The Orange Leader, then a daily newspaper in the southeast Texas town of approximately 20,000. While rather small in size,  residents of Orange provided heaping help to evacuees. And for approximately three weeks, stories of all sorts flooded the newsroom – from an evacuee giving birth in a local hospital to a pet owner being reunited with a missing dog.

As a journalist who had a part in covering Katrina, the experiences I encountered were somewhat different from those of major media outlets, maybe because these were the people who got out of dodge. However, while they were not on the roofs of their homes being rescued or trapped in the Superdome, there was a sense uncertainty. Although they were out of harm’s way, most of the people I spoke with were in a strange place and worried about their homes.

In situations like these, people just need someone to listen to them; that was my role for the hours I spent at the rest stop. For a journalist, it was a dream; stories flowed with emotion flowed. As a Christian, I was more than willing to provide an empathetic ear and show compassion. They didn’t care that I was a reporter, they just needed someone to listen to them. And on Aug. 29, that was the role God appointed to me. Coincidentally, many southeast Texans, myself included, found themselves on the run from a hurricane, as Hurricane Rita made landfall nearly one month later near Sabine Pass, Texas, on Sept. 24, 2005.

It was heartwarming to witness a community pulling together – regardless of their faith, race, and background – to compassionately uplift others (Colossians 3:12). Orange churches such as First Baptist, First Presbyterian, and North Orange Baptist opened shelters. Many other congregations held prayer services for evacuees and the community.

One of the last stories I covered before Rita interrupted the lives came from caring soul who willingly open her home to evacuees. Joel (pronounced Joe-L) Wilridge, who was a shower-maintenance worker for the Flying J Travel Plaza on Interstate 10 in Orange, “adopted” several Katrina families literally camped out at the truck stop for days.

“I wanted to do my part to help them,” Wilridge told me in September 2005. “I wanted to bring a family home with me. God has definitely brought us together.”Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

Wilridge not only opened her own home to evacuees, she recruited her mother, her sister, and adult daughters’ to serve as hostesses. LeRoy Franklin, Claire Brown, Edruth Segura, and Latara Brown, all of New Orleans, sought refuge in the home of Wilridge’s mother, Muriel Julian.

“The people here are very compassionate and friendly, and that goes for the white and black people,” Brown said. At the time of the interview, Brown was a social service counselor for the state of Louisiana.

It was sad that former Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco and former New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin had to rely on the federal government to decide whether or not to evacuate thousands when a major hurricane churned in the gulf. Despite it all, the nonprofit organizations, churches, and caring citizens helped those who were able to escape Katrina’s wrath. Katrina is a clear reminder that can get along and help each other in these situations despite our differences. Let’s not wait until a natural disaster to prove what we all know is inside of us. May God bless you and keep you safe.

Cutline: “We are family” is one of several stories written by Tonya Andris, former general assignment reporter for The Orange Leader. Orange, Texas, a city of 20,000 in southeast Texas, was one of several Texas cities along Interstate 10 that welcomed evacuees of Hurricane Katrina in late August 2005.

Tonya Andris is managing editor of Inside The Pew. She is a former newspaper journalist and resident of Plano, Texas. You may reach her at pewnews@aol.com.

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