Reporter Brian Allen's Gulf Coast Blog - 8 News NOW

Reporter Brian Allen's Gulf Coast Blog

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Brian Allen talks with NHP's Tom Urso in Pascagoula, MS Brian Allen talks with NHP's Tom Urso in Pascagoula, MS
Brian Allen, September 14 Brian Allen, September 14
Brian Allen, September 16 Brian Allen, September 16

The Eyewitness News 8 Gulf Coast crew arrived safely home in Las Vegas Monday afternoon.
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Sept. 16,  10:45 p.m.
New Orleans 

 Mark Mutchler and I spent this entire day in New Orleans. We put together seven stories today from interviews we shot earlier in the week. That meant seven live shots. The first one at 6 a.m., the last one at 6 p.m.

The entire time we have been here there has been a military presence, but today for some reason there seemed to be more soldiers here, carrying more guns, going on more patrols. Perhaps a sign that this section of the city is getting ready to open up.

As Mark and I were going through tape this afternoon, we again were hit by the magnitude of the devestation across the Mississippi Coast. This is the first time I have ever covered the aftermath of a hurricane. I've been there for plenty of floods and plenty of tornadoes. But nothing like this.

I worry what will happen to some of those who survived Katrina. Especially troubling are the stories of those who are being denied insurance coverage by their insurance companies. Apparently when a hurricane hits an area, homeowners insurance is not enough. You have to have something called hurricane insurance. Well what is apparently happening is some insurance companies are claiming the damage to homes along the Mississippi Gulf Coast was not the result of a hurricane but a flood.

As a jouranlist I am objective. But I'm taking the journalist hat off for a moment. COME ON! How ridicilous of a claim is this? Where did the water come from for the "flood" ? THE HURRICANE! If I had survived a hurricane only to be told this by an insurance company, I am not sure what my reaction would be. It would not be good. That argument is insulting and ill-timed.

I keep coming back to the idea that some homeowners on the coast came home after evacuating for Katrina and didn't find anything. The whole home is just gone, like someone picked it up and just walked off with it. How must that feel? I mean even if there was some debris around, you would at least be able to reconcile what happened. But for everything just to be gone like that is amazing. It shows the true power of Mother Nature.

Mark and I were thankful that we did not have to make the drive to Mississippi today. Don't get me wrong, we were committed to telling the story of Nevada police officers serving on the Mississippi coast. But it has been a long week with long hours and our batteries are starting to wind down. We need real sleep. We need showers. We're starting to smell gamey.

In Pascagoula, Mississippi, residents are talking about the FEMA and Red Cross responses to the tragedy. A lot of them have complaints about both organziations, questioning how organizations who know the south has a history of hurricane damage could have fallen down on the job. As recovery efforts continue, that is a question that HAS to be asked and HAS to be answered so it does not happen ever again. We owe these people that.

The flip side of that coin: how much help should these people receive? As THEY know living on the coast greatly increases their chance of hurricane damage. Don't they bear some of the brunt of this?

There will be enough time for finger pointing later. The immediate, short picture is this: people are suffering, people are homeless and likely will be for a long time. How does that get fixed? If you have an answer, shoot me an e-mail and tell me.

This is our last night in New Orleans. After out 6 p.m. live shots, the crew here at Camp Katrina tore down our tent and began packing our gear away. Everyone is tired and dragging.

All of us walked down the street to the Sheraton Hotel, where the bar there is open for business. Typical New Orleans. Everything else is closed, but the bar is open. We grabbed a drink and just relaxed, laughed and unwound. This week has been such a pressure cooker. All of us on this team are perfectionists. We want everything to go well and when it doesn't we get bent out of shape. For the most part, I think everything went well this past week.

Right now it is just past 11 p.m. central Time. Dave Courvoisier is writing his blog. (he called mine boring in has last report. I won't resort to that. But his puts me to sleep.) Satellite truck engineer Bob Hauck is outside walking around getting some fresh air. Our on site producer John Turner is asleep in the back of the RV. Adam White and Mark Mutchler are also outside watching the lightning. It seems appropriate that on the final night of our storm coverage, there is a storm moving into New Orleans. Lightning and rain but no thunder.

Part of me doesn't want to leave. The stories along Mississippi's Gulf Coast are so interesting and compelling that we just want to find out more and more. But we need to go. It's time to return home and resume our lives.

Thanks to all of you who have read mine (and Dave's) blog. A big thanks to those of you who have e-mailed and tipped me off about friends and family living in the Gulf. This is my first time blogging, and I think I like it. It's more freeing and open than what we do on TV.

So Camp Katrina is now closed. Our next stop is Las Vegas. Time to get some sleep.
 Reporting live from New Orleans, Brian Allen, Channel 8, Eyewitness News.

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Sept. 15, 10:08 p.m.
New Orleans 

Another long but productive day. In the end, that's what makes it satisfying. Photojournalist Mark Mutchler and I are up at 4:30 in the morning to prepare for our morning show live shots with Casey and Charlotte.

Mark is also working on finishing up a package for the noon, doing it now so he can go to bed a little earlier the night before and hopefully catch up on sleep. These days sleep is very hard to come by, and when you do nod off it's not quality, restful sleep. It's more like unconsciousness.

After our morning live shots, we jumped in our Mountaineer and make the trek we both are now so familiar with. The drive from New Orleans to Mississippi's Gulf Coast. We spend most of the trip listening to New Orleans news radio stations, to keep up to date on efforts to drain the city of water and allow residents to return home.

We travel to Pascagoula to meet with a man named Kevin Foster. He used to live in Las Vegas, but moved to Mississippi looking for a better life. Hurricane Katrina washed away his dreams. His home is damaged, it has slipped off its foundation. His fledgling used car business is sunk...literally. Katrina's storm surge ruined his supply of cars.

It's while talking to Foster's neighbors that we begin to hear troubling stories. Apparently, six people who sustained hurricane damage in Pascagoula have committed suicide, seeing no other way out of their financial disaster but death. I can not imagine the type of despair one must go through in order to see suicide as a viable solution.

We stop in Ocean Springs to grab a bite to eat and I see a scene that breaks my heart. A woman sitting in her mini-van, the passenger door open, her head facing down to the ground. A child was sitting in the back seat repeatedly saying "It will be OK". The toll here will not be measured only in dollars but in the emotional toll it is taking. Adults forced to start over. Children wondering if this is normal. Everyone silently wondering if this will ever happen again on this scale.

On the way back to New Orleans, Mark and I talk about this entire mission. The hours are long. We're sick of making this drive. We can't shower. Food is hard to come by. I'm now to the point where I consider Gatorade and granola bars as food groups and I can not imagine now having gone on this assignment. Not only from a news perspective. This is the type of story reporters dream of covering. But from a personal perspective as well. You don't go through something like this..either as a victim or an observer...and walk away unchanged.

Coming here and seeing what I have seen has allowed me to do some thinking about my life. The overall outcome I've come to:  any problems I have or think I have are nohing compared to having a lifetime's worth of hard work and memories washed away by an angry sea.

Mark and I arrived back at Camp Katrina ( or Casa KLAS as Dave calls it) at 7:30 PM local time. The earliest that we have returned since starting the New Orleans-Mississippi commute. It gives us some time to talk with our other crew members, and allows Mark and I to rachet down our engines and just take a breath.

We really have a good team here. So often you get so wrapped up in what you're doing that you don't take any time to appreciate those around you.

Dave Courvoisier and I get along great. Two midwest boys cut from similar backgrounds. Bob Hauck runs the satellite truck for us, and he always makes sure we look great and he does whatever he can to help.

John Turner is our on-site producer. He keeps the entire team focused on what we have to do without being heavy handed. He knows we're pros and take this very seriously.

Adam White is the ironman in the group. He came to New Orleans with Gary Waddell nearly three weeks ago and he is still here, still anxious to get a good story.

But my main man here is Mark Mutchler. I'll let you in on a little secret; working with me is no walk in the park. I'm impatient. I want to interview everyone and shoot video of everything...usually when we dont have any time to do that. Mark is patient and kind. He is a pro. He has a good eye for photojournalism. He knows what looks good and what just fills up the screen. when I work with him I know I don't have to worry about anything.

So as I'm writing this, I'm sitting on the corner of Peters and Canal in New Orleans, right outside the Harrah's downtown casino. Military Humvees are everywhere. A big beautiful moon is in the sky. It is cool tonight, a welcome break from today's humidity. But every once in a while the breeze changes and you catch a whiff of something unpleasant. I hope it is the smell of standing water and not something more gruesome.

We are scheduled to pull out of New Orleans on Saturday morning. I can not wait to get home and see my wife Mandy and son Austin. Every night I miss them a little more. But part of me is hesitant to leave. I'm curious where all of this will go. How will New Orleans bounce back? What about the argument that a city located below sea level shouldn't be rebuilt?

What will happen to Mississippi's Gulf Coast. It's beauty is now spoken of in the past tense by long time residents.

It is still surreal to be here, covering this story. I will miss the hospitality of people here in the South. I haven't encountered one yet who wasn't cordial and nice as could be.

I wonder what is going through the heads of the 100 Southern Nevada Police Officers. When they leave Sunday morning will their feelings be mixed as mine are? How do you step into a calamity, help people for ten days, then just walk away? Duty calls at home in Southern Nevada. But our officers have made a deep seeded connection with the people of Mississippi's Gulf Coast. One that will likely be tough to walk away from. Some officers are already talking about taking vacation time to return and help out some more.

In the end though, this is the fight of the people of Louisiana and Mississippi. They will have to rise or fall on their own. There are signs all across this region that say "The South Shall Rise Again". I'm betting it will.

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Sept. 14th, 9:56 p.m.
Ocean Springs, MS
Ocean Springs is a city caught in the middle of a calamity. It is located between Biloxi and Pascagoula. Both of those cities sustained serious damage while Ocean Springs was largely spared.

For now all of Katrina's victims come to Ocean Springs for gas, food, grocers, everything. One of the most popular restaurants in Ocean Springs is named the Mellow Mushroom. It is a pizza place that is usually frequented by a few people at a time. For the last two weeks, it has been full all the time. Busy nearly round the clock. The place only shuts down for pizza oven maintenance.

Sarah Covey is a manager at the restaurant. She tells me her mostly part time staff is pulling full time hours. Some waitresses are working 14 hour shifts to keep up with demand. Sarah says business has never been better. But it comes as such an expense to her friends and family.

Today we learned Nye County deputies are patrolling the city of Gulfport. They have been placed on looter patrol. Already in the area, a looting ring has been busted. Apparently a group of people from Florida drove up to the Mississippi Gulf Coast with the expressed intent of looting damaged homes. Talk about kicking someone when they are down. Someone who would do that can be found at the bottom rung of society's ladder.

Photojournalist Mark Mutchler and I had a profound experience today. While in Gulfport, a man walked up to me and said "Thank you for spotlighting Gulfport. All anyone seems to care about is New Orleans." It makes me feel all the more confident about our efforts here. The daily drive from New Orleans to Mississippi's Gulf Coast is worth it.

There seems to be more of a military presence in Southern Mississippi. We always see convoys of green and brown Hummers, carrying troops into the area. Already military troops are working in Gulfport to clear debris from the beach areas along the city's shoreline.

Today we learned the 100 member team of Southern Nevada Police Officers will be leaving their duties here on Sunday morning. The last night of active patrols will be Saturday night. Several Metro officers I have spoken with tell me it will be tough to leave this area, tough to leave the survivors. But they also have duties to Nevada that must be met.

It is a tough situation to be in. But recovering from Katrina will not be an easy job.

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Sept.13th, Gulfport, Mississippi -- 10:18 p.m.
Devastation in Gulfport

It has been a long day, but very informative and very disturbing. Photojournalist Mark Mutchler and I awoke at 4 a.m. PT in preparation for our morning show live shots with Casey Smith and Charlotte Evans. My colleagues Dave Courvoisier, Adam White and John Turner are already gone -- headed out for another assignment here in New Orleans.

Our stories for the morning show deal with the give-take relationship between the Southern Nevada law officers who came here to help hurricane victims. They gave of their personal and professional time to do this and never expected a thank you in return. Instead what was happened is an outpouring of thanks and gratefulness from residents all across southern Mississippi: Biloxi, Gulfport, Pascagoula, Ocean Springs. It had brought these typically tough, gruff cops to tears. There is no doubt this is an emotional time for everyone involved.

Mark and I do three live shots for the Eyewitness News This Morning show, then we jump in our news vehicle to make the trip from downtown New Orleans to southern Mississippi. Mark and I have only been here about five days, but we have already memorized the path: Interstate 10 north to Interstate 55 north to Interstate 12 east to Interstate 10 east.

The drive proves the relief efforts have kicked into overdrive. We are constantly surrounded by military convoys and private companies delivering equipment to remove debris.

Today we are following up a story involving Harrah's Gaming. They operate a casino in Gulfport, Mississippi that was decimated by Hurricane Katrina. We had yet to see the damage for ourselves and to shoot video to show all of you.

Upon entering Gulfport's shoreline, we have to go through two checkpoints. One is the military, who clears us through but warns us to be careful. The second is local Gulfport Police, who at first do not want to let us through the checkpoint. After a lot of haggling, he finally agrees to let us through but says "I shouldn't be doing this".

The damage is amazing. I'm searching for other words that will more accurately drive the point home. All out carnage. Chaos in what had been order. Debris so battered about that you can tell what it is, but can not determine what it once was.

Harrah's Grand Casino has entire portions of the building missing. Those pieces are not lying on the ground nearby. They are gone and no one is sure where they went.

Other casinos, such as the Copa Casino, had been located on floating barges in Gulfport Bay. The Copa's barge now sits on shore, on top of something. Whatever it is has been flattened. There is a large gaping hole in the back of the Copa. You can see people milling about inside. It is surreal.

Farther south down the coast, a residential area, or what used to be a residential area. It sounds horribly cliche to say that it looks like an atomic bomb went off. But that is EXACTLY what it looks like. Homes are now splinters. A gas station identifiable only by the bent, broken gas pumps that remain behind. A barge landed on top of an apartment complex in this area. I hope no one was inside trying to ride out the storm.

What is most troubling when you walk around Gulfport is how wickedly out of order everything is. Not in the literal sense of the word, mind you, but other ways. You look into trees and you see people's clothing. You look on the ground, and what looks like a once pristine baptismal gown is caked in mud, wrinkled beyond belief. A child's stuffed bunny rabbit lies in the middle of a road.

Later in the afternoon we catch up with two Metro officers who are patrolling Pascagoula. Both tell me they will find it hard to leave this place when the time comes. They came here as Nevadans, but will leave adopted Mississippians. You can tell in their voice that they have an affinity for this place now, and for the people who live here.

There is much to admire about the survivors of Hurricane Katrina. I have yet to meet one who was mad, or wondered why the government wasn't giving them more.

On the drive back to New Orleans tonight, more military vehicles and more checkpoints. The military guards at the Mississippi River bridge recognize our vehicle now, and just smile and wave us through. No more questions about what we're doing here.

It is a comfortable night in New Orleans. Cool with a bit of a breeze. There are more lights on downtown tonight. But the city is still under a strict curfew; no one is allowed downtown except the military, the police and the media. Just as I think tonight will be calm, a New Orleans Police car rushes past me with it's lights on.

Mark Mutchler is still in the satellite truck putting our pieces together. He is a true pro and I am glad to be working with him.

Now it's off to bed to try and get some sleep. Tomorrow will be here soon; another day to hit the road. Another day to watch the residents of southern Mississippi toil with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

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Sept. 12th, New Orleans -- 10:58 p.m.
New Orleans at Night

One more note about our return to New Orleans. Tonight, there are very few lights on in the downtown area. It makes for an eerie setting, but shows the seriousness of what has happened here.

Helicopters constantly patrol the skies. I don't know if they are performing rescue missions or if they are simply up to look around. But the sound of the whirring blades is omni-present.

We are watching the local news channels. While we face stress covering this story, I can not imagine what this is like for the news folks here. They talk about it on the air. When they are done, and go home, they live with it.

Tonight on the way into New Orleans we fell in with a long military convoy. Truck after truck emblazoned with camouflage, blinking lights, and large equipment.

Over the last two days, some of the large trash piles around the New Orleans Convention Center have been removed. But the trash piles within the center remain. Through the first floor glass, you see chairs where evacuees sat, the containers they drank and ate from. I can not imagine what that must be like to essentially be a sitting duck. Simply sitting and waiting for a hurricane to come.


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Sept. 12th, Gulfport, Mississippi -- 8:07 p.m.
Gambling Losses in Mississippi

Expect the unexpected. It has been the overwhelming lesson of Hurricane Katrina. Tonight, we know first hand how quickly things can change.

We began this day in Gulfport, Mississippi. It sits right on the Mississippi Sound. It would be a beautiful sight if not for all the damage left behind. Everywhere you go you see the second story of a house collapsed onto the first floor below. I try to imagine what possessions remains trapped inside, and what it means to the residents who have lost them.

Gulfport has a burgeoning gambling industry. The catch: Mississippi law only allows casinos if they are floating, they can not be land based. Which is why nearly every floating casino along the Gulf Coast has taken a major hit and immeasurable losses.

Harrah's operates several properties along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. A rough average of 4,500 people work at those establishments. Soon, nearly all of them will be out of a job. Harrah's is now trying to match it's Gulf employees with job openings at it's other properties in Atlantic City and Las Vegas. You can see the pain in the employees eyes when you talk to them about re-locating. To a person, each one had positive comments to say about Las Vegas. But there was always a caveat: to them, the Gulf is home. It is where they have friends and family. It is a community that is as comfortable as an old pair of slippers. And it these employees want to earn a pay check, they will have to leave.

We swung through Biloxi again today. Metro squad cars patrol the beach front area as our officers help Biloxi officers fill in their scheduled gaps so Biloxi cops can get a break.

We had been filing our reports through a CBS satellite truck in Biloxi. This afternoon, we learned the truck would be leaving Biloxi for another assignment. This is not good for us; it means we either have to cut short our coverage or go to New Orleans, where another Channel 8 crew is working out of a satellite truck owned by Eyewitness News.

Neither option was particularly appealing. Finally, we decided to go to New Orleans, where we knew we could file our stories.

So now, covering the Mississippi Gulf's plight will be a commuter assignment. Photojournalist Mark Mutchler and I will now be based out of New Orleans, and drive the 100 some miles to the Mississippi Gulf.

A challenging assignment is now a bit more challenging. But it is nothing compared to the "assignment" Katrina's victims still have in front of them.

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Sept. 9th, Las Vegas -- 12:40 p.m.
Getting Ready to Leave

Twelve hours from now I will be on an airplane headed for Dallas, Texas. I'll catch a connecting flight to Jackson, Mississippi, then drive to Biloxi, Mississippi.

I'm bracing myself for the worst. I know the physical damage to the area will be bad. What will be tough to observe is the psychological damage to residents, especially children, whose lives have been upended by Hurricane Katrina.

There are several Nevada connections to the Mississippi relief efforts. Helicopter crews from Nellis are flying rescue and recovery missions from a base in Jackson, Mississippi. Officers with Metro and the Nevada Highway Patrol are headed for Biloxi and surrounding areas as I am writing this. They will be put into service; making sure secure areas stay that way. Making sure residents stay safe and even tempered during this time. This situation that would try even the patience of Job.

I would be remiss if I didn't tell you I am a little worried about going into this area. Standing water is bound to breed mosquitos and other bugs. Already there have been rat infestations reported in the Biloxi area. With so many people out of their homes and in shelters, quarters are cramped. Hygiene may not be at it's best, that too can breed and promote illness. But this is an important story to tell. It was an opportunity I couldn't say "no" to. News reporters are drawn to these situations like moths to a flame.

I extensively covered the midwest floods of 1993. Torrential rains tore many rivers from their banks and flooded out city, towns and homesteads.

Even with that background at my disposal. I imagine this will be unlike anything I have ever witnessed or reported on before.

It's off to bed now to catch a couple hours of shut eye. I'm not sure how often we'll be able to sleep once we get to Mississippi.

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Sept. 10th, New Orleans -- 4:42 p.m.
Impressions of New Orleans

I just pulled into downtown New Orleans. It looks like a military encampment. There are armed soldiers on nearly every street corner. At the New Orleans Convention Center, piles of trash six feet high are being picked up by work crews using an end loader. A New Orleans Police car sits outside the convention center, abandoned and stripped of all of it's tires.

Some buildings near downtown have collapsed. We drove by one building where two cars sat outside and smashed by loads of bricks.

Everyone including work crews, soldiers, and media walk through the streets with amazed looks on their faces.

As far`as the smell you've heard about -- so far we have not encountered it. If we don't that's OK.
This morning after arriving in Jackson, Mississippi, we drove down I-55 headed towards New Orleans. As soon as you cross the Mississippi/Louisiana border you begin to see the signs of damage; twisted billboard and trees knocked in half.

But once you hit Interstate 10, once you see the skyline of New Orleans, it becomes perfectly clear Hurricane Katrina didn't just effect selected pockets of this city..but every single corner has been impacted.

Later tonight, we plan on heading to Biloxi, Mississippi. Tomorrow, we plan on meeting up with Metro Police officers working in southern Mississippi. Their work will no doubt be challenging.

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Sept. 11th, Pascagoula, Mississippi -- 6:55 p.m.
Damage in Mississippi

Eyewitness News 8 photojournalist Mark Mutchler and I spent a great part of this day in Pascagoula, Mississippi. The damage there shows just how violent Katrina was when she came ashore. Pascagoula sits right on the Mississippi Sound; right on the water. There was nothing standing between the town and Katrina's 20-foot storm surge. It shows.

Homes that have been in the area since the Civil War are gone. Not damaged. GONE. All that is left is an outline of the home's foundation. We visited the Pascagoula home of U.S. Senator Trent Lott. It too is gone. Wiped away like it was never there. Stories of Katrina's destruction are everywhere. Most of the people here left as Katrina approached. The life they returned to is now significantly changed.

There is a gut turning smell in a portion of the city near the intersections of Martin and Washington. It is some type of sewage leak. The Red Cross is patrolling the neighborhoods, telling people to constantly wash their hands and to not handle dirty water, mud, sewage anything if they don't have to. But that is nearly impossible, as all those things now cover what remains of people's homes.

Las Vegas Metro Police officers, in conjunction with the Nevada HIghway Patrol, are now responsible for the safety of Pascagoula; giving the city's officers a chance to clean up their own storm damage. I can not tell you how many times Pascagoula residents would drive by Metro or NHP officers and yell out "Thank You" or "God Bless You" or "I am so glad you're here!". It truly touches our officers. In quiet moments, away from the public, some of these officers get tears in their eyes. It means so much to them to know that what they're doing is having a visible, tangible impact.

The flash floods we have seen in the Las Vegas Valley in recent years have been bad, and caused millions of dollars in damage. But there is no comparison between those floods and what has happened here. Boats sitting on top of what used to be homes. Other homes knocked off their foundations and either moved several miles to the north or now sitting at the bottom of Mississippi Sound.

As Mark Mutchler and I packed up our gear today, I looked out at the Mississippi Sound. A big bright sun was shining overhead and pelicans were sitting on top of now ruined pier pilings. The water was calm. How deceptive Mother Nature has been: violent and angry two weeks ago, now tranquil and relaxing. The sound of a beeping end loader removing debris brought me back to the tragic reality of the Gulf Coast.

Contact Reporter Brian Allen

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