Do you remember where you were when you first learned that Hurricane Katrina was headed in our general direction? I certainly do.
I had returned from officiating a football game on Friday night, August 26, 2005, around 11 p.m. I don’t remember where the game was played, but I do remember coming home and turning on the television and tuning to The Weather Channel to see what was going on with her. Katrina had plowed over the southern tip of Florida during the day, weakening to a tropical storm. Forecasts in the afternoon showed she would strike northwest Florida later in the weekend. By late afternoon, the forecasters had shifted her track more towards Louisiana and Mississippi. Suddenly, Katrina was strengthening in the Gulf of Mexico, reaching 75-mile-per-hour hurricane status–a Category 1 storm.
“Meh. It’s not going to be that big of a deal. It’s just a Cat 1,” I thought as I prepared to lie down after a long day. We’d had them before.
Waking up the next morning, we turned the TV back on. Lo and behold, Katrina was in the middle of the Gulf and looked like a big buzz saw. She had reached Category 3 – major hurricane status – overnight. Governor Haley Barbour was on TV telling everyone to evacuate the Gulf Coast. Likewise, Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco was doing the same in Louisiana. “Get out while you can!” was the command from the states’ leaders.
I pretty much stayed glued to the tube the rest of the day on Saturday, August 27. Every three hours, the new forecast track brought her closer to us. Every three hours, she strengthened. Every three hours we grew more concerned.
By Sunday morning, Katrina clearly was going to be like nothing we’d ever seen here, as she spun tauntingly as a Cat 4 off the coast of Louisiana and took aim for Mississippi. Cars by the thousands made their way up I-55 into, around and through Copiah County. Though no one was panicking, the feeling of impending doom was in everyone’s gut. She was coming with a head of steam, and we couldn’t do anything to stop her, like something you’d read about in the Michael F. Smith novel Rivers
On Monday morning, I took an ad proof to Piggly Wiggly around 9:30. Folks were already lined up buying whatever they could get their hands on just to survive. Old ladies in the parking lot struggled to keep head covers on or umbrellas upright as Katrina’s first 50 MPH sustained winds howled through the area. By 11:30, the power was out and we shut down the office.
As I made my way towards my home north of Wesson to check on the situation there, Hwy. 51 was blocked from south Hazlehurst all the way to Martinsville. Trees were down, and county and city road and street crews were snowed under with calls to remove debris from roadways. . The interstate was open, but hardly anyone was traveling. It was really too late by then to get somewhere out of harm’s way.
Hotels and shelters around the county were filled to the brim with evacuees from Louisiana and the Gulf Coast. Lights were out. First responders were having a time keeping up with the calls and just trying to stay safe. Everyone was scared, including myself. It’s a feeling that none of us will ever forget.