Hurricane Katrina

One year later, the storm haunts Gulf Coast

It was a year ago today that Alan Switzler sat inside a Red Cross shelter and listened to "a constant high-pitch whine" and watched it send trees, debris and a church bell flying through the air.

That high-pitch whine came with a name -- Hurricane Katrina.

Switzler, his wife, Angela, and their four children spent Aug. 29, 2005, in the First Baptist Church Fellowship Hall, which had been converted into a Red Cross Shelter.

That day, the Switzlers and the rest of the Gulf Coast were hit by one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history.

Today, on the one-year anniversary, they remember that day with clarity and talk about putting back the pieces.

Remembering the storm

Alan and Angela grew up in Northwest Colorado but relocated to Picayune, Miss., a bedroom community of 10,000 people 30 miles northeast of New Orleans. Alan said that when the storm reached Picayne, it was still a strong Category 3 hurricane. At one point, he said the bell from the church bell tower flew and hit a car.

"That gave everybody a little start," he said. "The building was fine structurally so we spent most of our time taking turns keeping the kids occupied and the elderly from getting irritated. It was encouraging to see how everybody was helping each other out."

When the storm subsided, everybody went to work.

"The locals were out cutting trees and making it possible to move around almost immediately," he said. "It was a good attitude from most people."

Finding a shelter

Alan's mother, Betty Switzler of Craig, told the Craig Daily Press after the hurricane that she spent three days trying to get a hold of the family. Without electricity, Alan had a hard time finding any means of reaching loved ones back home.

"Communication was a big problem right away," he said. "We had a (police) officer at the shelter with us, but everybody's radio batteries were dying because we didn't have electricity."

They didn't have electricity for a month.

Recovering

They returned to a home that sustained minimal damage. Their fence was destroyed, and the trees around it were knocked down.

But it didn't take long for life to return somewhere close to normal.

"It amazed me how fast people picked things up and returned to normal because it almost looked like a war zone at first," Angela said.

Alan said one of the distinct memories after the storm was the stench.

"The smell of dead animals was strong," he said.

Within a few days, service organizations and individuals were in town providing helping hands.

"For months and months, people and donations came in," Angela said. "We had an outpouring of support from people who left their comforts of home for 98 degrees and 60 percent humidity. People could still get free hot meals up until a few months ago."

A year later

According to the Switzlers, life on the Gulf Coast is approaching normalcy on the first anniversary of Katrina.

"Schools are up and running and most government buildings are operational," Angela said. "Considering where we came from, it's pretty amazing."

But some areas aren't the same.

Alan travels to New Orleans for work on a regular basis, and his last trip was less than a week ago.

"In east New Orleans, there are cars that have dust on them from a year ago, and they haven't been touched because people didn't come back," he said. "It still looks like a disaster zone in some parts of New Orleans."

He recognized that the storm and flooding may have hit harder in the New Orleans area, but he doesn't think that's the main reason for the way things are.

"There is a distinct difference between Mississippi and Louisiana's coordination in the clean-up effort," he said. "From my perspective, Mississippi's government was better prepared and organized."

Angela read some of the articles about Katrina's anniversary and said she has some differing opinions.

"There's a lot of doom and gloom," she said. "It's important that the media shows the good. So many people came to help and pitch in and gave selflessly."

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