A group of Pine Belt public servants gathered on Thursday at the emergency operations center in Lamar County. They took time out to reflect on the day when Hurricane Katrina wrecked South Mississippi and Louisiana.
In one night, coastal communities and homes were obliterated by the surge that caused shelters to fill up in less than 24 hours, leaving people homeless and desperate. Today, when the group finished reminiscing about how they got Mississippi on the road to recovery, they stressed the importance of preparation, and how people can keep their families safe when the next hurricane strikes.
"Just as it turned daylight, there was a young couple in the parking lot. They had stayed in their car somewhere in Hattiesburg, and they wanted to know if we heard anything from the coast. We had just received some word that the coast was pretty much done away with," said Joy Lines, administrative secretary at the Salvation Army.
That's one of many stories discussed on Thursday, which marked 8 years since Hurricane Katrina, one of the deadliest natural disasters in the history of the United States. 1,833 people in South Mississippi and Louisiana died.
Public servants gathered to talk about lessons they learned the hard way, and what Pine Belt citizens can do to prepare for the next natural disaster.
It was too late to recover businesses.
"We lost power in every facility in Hattiesburg, and we only had emergency generators at one of our water facilities. And during the height of the storm, we lost that generator," said Bennie Sellers, former Hattiesburg director of public services.
People became thirsty and dehydrated.
"We could not get the water back up, because so many lines were broken, because of trees being overturned," Sellers said.
Roadways left people trapped in homes.
"There was not a street in Hattiesburg not blocked by some kind of debris," he added.
Although the help of those at the roundtable discussion were instrumental in helping get the Pine Belt back on track, they talked about how they should have been more prepared.
"Our plan was about this big," said Terri Steed, MEMA director, as he motioned his hands in close proximity.
"And our storm was about this big," Steed added, stretching his arms wide.
Governor Bryant weighed in on the discussion, taking a positive stance on how far Mississippi has come since the hurricane made landfall in August, 2005.
"Thinking about the wonderful people, what they've been able to do," Bryant said.
"8 years ago today, the Gulf Coast and South Mississippi has been restored, and now we're on the offense," he added.
At $108 billion, Hurricane Katrina is the costliest U.S. natural disaster in history.
In the case of a natural disaster, build an emergency kit. The kit should include a week's worth of food, water and supplies. Make a family communications plan, and know all surroundings. Another survival tip it to learn community hurricane evacuation routes, and how to find higher ground. Determine where you would go, and how you would get there.