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Hurricane Katrina

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The Republicans held their convention in Tampa, Florida, against a backdrop of Hurricane Isaac which hit the Gulf Coast on the seventh anniversary of Katrina. The Summer Olympics wrapped up in London with Usain Bolt comfortably defending his title as the world’s fastest man.

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Hurricane Isaac sidestepped New Orleans on Wednesday, sending the worst of its howling wind and heavy rain into a cluster of rural fishing villages that had few defenses against the slow-moving storm that could bring days of unending rain. Isaac arrived exactly seven years after Hurricane Katrina and passed slightly to the west of New [...]

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An investigative commission called the meltdown at Fukushima an entirely preventable “manmade” disaster, and the media blew up. Any editor or reporter worth his salt in sensationalist muckraking, after all, knows nuclear disaster stories get eyeballs. The story goes: this was good ol’ fashioned regulatory capture, the fox watching the hen house. A failure of government, a case of brazen recklessness from the nuclear industry—this was no freak fluke of nature. This was a disaster that could have been avoided altogether. This catastrophe was man-made.

Which, obviously …

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Billy Stinson (L) comforts his daughter Erin Stinson as they sit on the steps where their cottage once stood August 28, 2011 in Nags Head, North Carolina. The cottage, built in 1903 and destroyed yesterday by Hurricane Irene, was one of the first vacation cottages built on Albemarle Sound in Nags Head. Stinson has owned the home, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, since 1963. “We were pretending, just for a moment, that the cottage was still behind us and we were just sitting there watching the sunset,” said Erin afterward.

Hurricane Irene moved along the east coast causing heavy flooding damage as far north as Vermont and shutting down the entire New York mass transit system.

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Elton Driscoll, Jr. carries a U.S. flag that he removed from a hotel down the deserted and boarded-up Bourbon Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans August 28, 2005.   REUTERS/Rick Wilking

While covering Hurricane Katrina ripping through New Orleans five years ago, it struck me how the individual events that unfolded in the aftermath echoed similar tragedies I had photographed around the globe.

Cynthia Gonzales runs through the rain with a stray dog she rescued from a destroyed gas station (background) in Gretna, Louisiana, as Hurricane Katrina hit August 29, 2005.   REUTERS/Rick Wilking

It was like several stories in one – a hurricane of course, but there was little typical hurricane damage in the city. In fact, before the levees broke and it turned into a flood story I was close to leaving to move further east along the coast to cover the near-total devastation in Mississippi.

Two men push their truck in flooded New Orleans August 30, 2005.  REUTERS/Rick Wilking

It was a huge human tragedy story, reminiscent of 9/11 in New York in some ways with dazed, confused and distraught people wandering the streets.

People affected by Hurricane Katrina walk on the elevated freeway in downtown New Orleans August 31, 2005.   REUTERS/Rick Wilking

It developed into a crime story with gangs of looters and hoodlums in charge and almost no police presence – all the hallmarks of Haiti during its wilder times.

A police car is submerged in New Orleans East August 31, 2005 after Hurricane Katrina hit the area.   REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Witnessing floating bodies in New Orleans struck me in the same way as seeing bodies discovered daily on the Port-au-Prince streets.

When the National Guard showed up to take control and help refugees stranded at the Convention Center, it was a scene that reminded me of covering U.S. peacekeeping troops in Bosnia as the war wound down.

New Orleans SWAT police armed with machine guns patrol downtown New Orleans August 30, 2005.  REUTERS/Rick Wilking

But it was all in one place – a major U.S. city – where this kind of thing was unheard of.

There are many images from the disaster that will remain with me forever. The most horrific was watching an elderly woman slowly die before my eyes. She sat in a wheelchair, still in a hospital gown, surrounded by the mob still waiting to be evacuated downtown almost two weeks after the storm hit.

Dorothy Divic, 89, is surrounded by onlookers who are trying to keep her alive on a street outside the New Orleans Convention Center September 1, 2005.  REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Miss Dorothy they called her but no one could say where she came from or how she got there.

Before she passed away a man carrying a baby shouted for my attention. He whisked an old dirty blanket off another elderly person, this one a man slumped over and dead in a lawn chair in the middle of the street.

A man holding a baby uncovers the body of a dead man, suspected to have been sitting there for two days, outside the New Orleans Convention Center September 1, 2005.  REUTERS/Rick Wilking

It was nearly incomprehensible. But, it was important to be there and show that scene to the world. Shortly after these images were published and seen by the world, National Guard troops showed up with water and evacuations began.

I’ve been back to the Gulf only once since then and that was to cover the BP oil spill. Signs of the storm are still everywhere, boarded up buildings, the smell of mold and vacant lots with only a set of stairs remaining to show where a building once stood.

A brick path leads nowhere on what once was a home on the Mississippi Gulf of Mexico coast May 5, 2010.  REUTERS/Rick Wilking

The area may physically recover someday but the emotional scars will be permanent. No one will ever forget the terrible loss caused by a hurricane named Katrina.

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