Hurricane Katrina: Witness to Recovery
Navy photographer Jeremy Grisham tells the story of Hurricane Katrina through his lens.
My name is MC2 (SW/AW) Jeremy Grisham and I was first Navy photographer to fly into New Orleans the day after Katrina hit. Even working at CNN today, the images I captured and the stories I was able to convey during Katrina are still one of my greatest accomplishments.
When I was a student at the Defense Information School one of my instructors told me that a photo can carry a lot of weight - "a single photo can have the power to start or stop a war." It was now my job to capture and tell the "story" of Katrina to the world through my lens.
When Hurricane Katrina struck, I was stationed on USS Bataan (LHD 5). Bataan was in the Gulf of Mexico returning from an exercise in Panama and we were asked to stay off the coast because of the hurricane heading toward New Orleans. Bataan was the closest ship and the first to respond following the hurricane. After Katrina made landfall and cleared the coast, I was told I had just a few minutes to grab my camera gear and board a chopper heading into NOLA.
We weren't aware of exactly how bad the storm was or what to expect. We flew over small parishes outside New Orleans that were completely underwater, and as we approached downtown NOLA the severity became clear - this was truly catastrophic. That is when I snapped the photo of the damaged SuperDome and the NOLA skyline surrounded by water.
We landed on the parking deck of the SuperDome and I was dropped off - "we'll be back to get you at some point," I was told.
So this Navy Airman - dressed in coveralls, carrying a Nikon camera and a small memory card - went to work documenting for the world.
It felt like a war zone - this couldn't be the United States. Helicopters, both military and civilian, buzzed overhead. The parking garage was now command central and the air traffic looked as if it could be a busy flight deck on an aircraft carrier. As I looked out at the city from the top deck of the parking garage, I could see people walking on the interstates with whatever belongings they could carry. Cars were stopped and abandoned, dotting the raised roadways that were elevated above the flooding. As I approached the edge of the garage to look down at the flooded streets, I saw a man carrying his baby through the murky water seeking refuge at the SuperDome. The photo I snapped has stuck with me through the years.
As I walked closer to the SuperDome, I was escorted to the stadium by a National Guardsman who was now stationed there to assist. The Dome was a being used as a huge storm shelter for the residents of New Orleans. I stopped just shy of going up the stairs to the stadium to snap a photo of residents under the small trees of the landscaping, trying to escape the heat. Residents had fled their homes with whatever they could carry, if anything at all. Some had shoes, other did not.
After a few hours of walking around the SuperDome documenting the story there, I was back on a chopper heading back to the ship with the "story" inside my camera.
Within days, several of our training partners from Panama were anchored off the coast as well to lend a helping hand. Sailors from the Dutch and Mexican navy were working alongside us setting up hospitals, serving meals to locals, and assisting in setting up water and food distribution areas along the Louisiana and Mississippi coast.
Katrina was one of the stories you never forget. To this day, I feel honored to be one of the journalists able to cover the story for the Navy and for the world.