SPECIAL REPORT: ‘Devastation and delivery down in Dixie’

| 8/30/2010

That’s one of our Land Line Magazine headlines from our Hurricane Katrina coverage. This morning, we fished out that issue and reread some of our stories. They still amaze me.

When our staff left the OOIDA headquarters in Grain Valley, MO, on Friday night, Aug. 26, 2005, we were fearful, like most other Americans. Hurricane Katrina had just made shore in Florida, killing four people and leaving about a million without power. It hurtled toward the panhandle. We were glued to our televisions that weekend as Katrina grew to category 3 in the middle of the night Saturday and then switched paths, bearing down on New Orleans.

On Sunday, Aug. 28, it grew to a category 4 with winds exceeding 145 mph. OOIDA staffers planned to hit the office early in readiness for whatever Katrina was going to dish out.

On Monday, our radio news anchor Reed Black was in the studio by 5:30 a.m. Others weren’t far behind. Katrina was totally punching out Louisiana, making three reported landfalls there before dawn.

We had road closures to report and transportation disruptions to cover. At OOIDA, we knew we would have trucking families in harm’s way and we’d have truckers as first responders. We had no idea the extent of what else we would find.

Jay Hosty, our friend and longtime OOIDA member and board member, lived near Pearlington, MS. The weather service was predicting another landfall there. Jay didn’t answer his cell phone. Our OOIDA President Jim Johnston, his administrative assistant Angel Burnell, and others tried to call him a gazillion times.

He wasn’t the only one we were worried about. On that Monday, we heard from many, just checking in to let us know they had fled the storm and were OK. Some had sustained huge losses. Some truckers never made it to their Gulf coast homes and were frantic. Right away, others began to call with offers of help, knowing trucks would be needed.

As OOIDA was making and fielding phone calls and Land Line was handing out editorial assignments in our offices in Missouri, daylight was revealing the damage on the Gulf. It was pandemonium.

At about 10 a.m., Central Daylight Time, Katrina made third landfall, as predicted, near Pearlington. We didn’t know it, but Jay Hosty had taken refuge with his family and members of his church in Bay St. Louis, MS, a place that seemed safer. But water was rushing into the church, and the Hostys, their pastor and others were unable to escape. There was no place to go.

They had no idea what had happened to their home in Lakeshore, MS, or their belongings, or Jay’s truck. They made their way to the church’s attic. When the water got to the third step from the top, it looked like the small group was doomed. Jay said later he didn’t think they’d survive.

What happened to the Hostys, the church and their home? Where are they now?

Our phone lines and e-mail were full of stories from OOIDA members and readers who lost homes, trucks and precious belongings. The stories – like that of Jay Hosty and his family – were extraordinary, told from personal viewpoints. During the next few days, we’ll revisit Jay and more of those people.

Many of the stories were from truckers who were a huge part of the relief effort. As the nation looks back at the devastation of Hurricane Katrina this week – with the sharpened and somewhat tempered perspective afforded by five years – at OOIDA, we can’t help but notice that there’s little recollection of the recovery efforts conducted by truck drivers.

In the midst of the chaos, when local, state and federal governments were struggling with what to do and how to do it and arguing about who dropped the ball, it was the nation’s truckers who were among the first to come to the rescue. We’ll revisit some of them, too.

In the weeks and months that followed, it was pretty clear that America not only moves by truck, but also definitely recovers by truck. Truckers were a huge part of the relief effort. We feel that it’s significant to point this out.

– By Sandi Soendker, managing editor