Reporter's Notebook: Covering Tragedy A Life-Enriching Experience

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RALEIGH, N.C. — After being a television journalist for almost 17 years, I can honestly say that I'm not easily moved by the ebb and flow of daily news the way that I once was.

It comes with the territory. We see too much, experience too much, to the point where we become desensitized to the tragedies we cover every day. It's a defense mechanism that kicks in whenever you interview the parent of a dead child or watch a fire consume someone's home.

But there's nothing like a natural disaster to shake you to your core and make you feel alive again as a journalist and as a human being.

I've covered every major hurricane in the Carolinas since Hugo. OK, I know I'm dating myself. I really cut my teeth on Hurricanes Fran and Bertha. I covered the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch in El Salvador. I trudged through floodwaters after Floyd when I was six months pregnant. I held onto a hammock and suffered wind and sand burns on my face when Hurricane Isabel came ashore in Pine Knoll Shores.

But nothing, I mean nothing, prepared me for what I would see in the Gulf states after Hurricane Katrina.

I spent two weeks there in September 2005 living in an R.V. in a Gulfport, Miss., parking lot with photographer Ed Wilson, field producer Brad Grantham and engineer Brian Pittman. The living situation in itself was enough to send even a seasoned journalist over the edge.

But it was the human misery, the absolute devastation of people's lives, that I will never forget. The situation improved when photographer Chad Flowers and I returned in February, but not much. The debris was still spread for miles, abandoned homes stood untouched, and FEMA trailers dotted just about every former neighborhood.

On this recent trip, we saw some light at the end of what has become an agonizing journey. People are still not back in their homes, but they can see the grass again under their feet. Many people are still in trailers, but you turn the corner and see someone building a house. Businesses are opening their doors again, although it can take awhile to get a cup of coffee because many employees are gone.

There is hope, albeit faint in some communities, that the Gulf Coast will come back. Some people estimate it could take as long as five years. In my opinion, that's not an outlandish estimate.

So many volunteers from all over the country were there right after the storm and are still there now. At first, they were feeding, housing, clothing people. Then, they turned their attention to the cleanup.

Now, they are rebuilding one house, one block, one neighborhood at a time.

An 88-year-old woman I spoke with in Biloxi, Miss., recently moved back into her home after living in a FEMA trailer for almost a year. Her home was rebuilt from the ground up by church volunteers. She now counts these men and women from all over the country as friends. She told me that they had enriched her life beyond measure.

I thought about the word "enriched" for days after that conversation and realized that the people I have met in the Gulf states have done this for me. They enriched my life by sharing their inspiring stories with me and their hope. They enriched my life by never saying a cross word or showing me anger in the midst of an unimaginable tragedy.

So, thank you to those people who gave us a piece of their post-Katrina lives and thank you to WRAL for caring enough to share it with our viewers. This experience has enriched my life beyond measure.

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