Surveying Katrina's Wrath from the Air
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
And I'm Madeleine Brand. In a few minutes, the shortage of doctors in rural America.
CHADWICK: But first, our colleague Noah Adams brings us a story now from 50 miles east of New Orleans, from the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. There, Hurricane Katrina's winds pushed a storm surge ashore, in some places, 30 feet high. And the beachside communities roiled and shattered under the dirty waters of the Mississippi Sound.
NOAH ADAMS reporting:
Alex, you know when you go someplace where something drastic happens, and you come back and you've got pictures, and you say the pictures didn't do it justice. They just don't get the scale of it. This case, I got to go up in the air. I've been out on a boat and seen what happened, and I've walked the streets and the roads, but I was fortunate enough to fly over the coast in a small aircraft.
(Soundbite of airplane engine)
ADAMS: The pilot is Lee Taylor. He's now retired from business. Once, he was an Air Force test pilot. He still teaches aerobatics, and today we're flying one of his old favorite planes.
Mr. LEE TAYLOR (Pilot): This is a Cessna 180, a 1955 model Cessna 180. So we have to use the headsets and so forth, because it's not the quietest thing in the world.
ADAMS: This is the community of Diamondhead, Mississippi. It's for people who have money and love airplanes. Your house will have a hanger. The street out front also serves as a taxiway to Diamondhead's private airstrip. In this neighborhood, more than 200 homes almost disappeared when Katrina arrived. As we taxi, Lee Taylor tells the stories.
Mr. TAYLOR: Place here to the left of us, that was a 4,300 square foot, beautiful brick home. You can see it's just a pile of rubble now, and the man's brand new Lexus was sitting on top of the pile of rubble for almost 4 months before they finally at least came in and picked up the debris of the Lexus.
ADAMS: And here is Lee Taylor's own Katrina story. He lost nothing. He and his wife Jane had just decided to build a house here. They did start with the hangar. The concrete was poured on the Thursday before the storm. The Taylor's were in Colorado. Katrina left most of their neighbors with exactly what the Taylor's now had, a concrete slab. They did go on to finish the hangar, and on Christmas Eve, moved an RV inside, and now will complete their own home.
Mr. TAYLOR: The gentleman right here and his wife, they're both 78 years old, they stayed here during the flood. They ended up chopping their way through the sheetrock into their attic with a meat cleaver, and the roof actually broke off of the house, and they spent eight hours floating around through the treetops out here on their roof before a neighbor finally saw them. They didn't get a scratch out of it. Both of them were just wearing their nightclothes. They actually got runway lights back day before yesterday. Here we go.
ADAMS: We roll out to the end of the Diamondhead runway, crank up the engine, go through the checklist, and take off over the pine trees and white sands, and shallow blue water.
Mr. TAYLOR: Coming up here, you see the roadway's destroyed, Bay St. Louis Bridge. There's noting left of it at all but the pilings.
ADAMS: From the air, you can see the long reach of the storm surge into Mississippi. There's a line where brown changes to green, where the salt water stopped. Boats are back in the trees. You can see the tracks of tornados along the ground. Huge conglomerations of rubble that once were homes.
Mr. TAYLOR: This is all (unintelligible) area over here to our left now, right off our coastline. And I doubt seriously that there was a house along this coastline that was less than a million dollars. And they're gone. They're just plain gone. If we can't guarantee that type of person that this is never going to happen again, half of them aren't going to come back. And that means that Mississippi loses all that income.
ADAMS: We circle back in for a landing. The Cessna flutters in and turns onto the road that is both taxiway and driveway. We pass the collapsed brick houses and tangles of wings and propellers. Some of the aircraft were irreplaceable antiques under restoration.
(Soundbite of engine shutting down)
ADAMS: Lee Taylor knows that he was lucky missing the storm, being able to come and build his first hangar, start work on his first house, and to help his friends. And he likes the flying, showing visitors what really happened here.
Mr. TAYLOR: From the ground, you see a house, you see a block, you see a business district. From the air, you can see that this damage is uniform for over a hundred miles. And frankly, I think that the airplane is the only way that you can really see that. There's just too much of a concept to grasp any other way.
ADAMS: That is Lee Taylor, one of the first to fly after Katrina, out of the aviation community of Diamondhead, Mississippi.
CHADWICK: NPR's Noah Adams, with a look at the devastation from Katrina, six months later. Thank you Noah, who's here once again on DAY TO DAY to help out on this program, while I take off for a few days. Noah, we'll hear more of you in the next week and a half.
ADAMS: Thank you, Alex.
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