A Year Of Katrina: Reuniting Families, Finding Housing, Feeding Animals

By Brian 

gretaaug201.jpgWhen journalists like Greta Van Susteren weren’t on the air in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, they were working behind the scenes to help survivors of the storm.

“Everyone tried to do two things,” she recalls. “You did your job to get the story out in a dispassionate way, and if you had a second, you couldn’t help but want to help these people.”

Van Susteren returned to the Gulf Coast for the one-year anniversary of Katrina before flying to New York to interview Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig.

After Katrina came ashore, Van Susteren flew to Houston to cover the evacuees at the Astrodome.

“I must give a shout-out to Houston,” she says. “In a matter of hours, they took the Astrodome and turned it into a city for almost 30,000 people. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

When they weren’t doing live shots, the Fox crews were helping reunite families.

“We were a clearinghouse to help people find their relatives,” she says. “We helped people find housing, find relatives, find doctors. It was almost like social services when we weren’t on the air.”

gretaaug201.jpgIndividuals were attracted to the satellite trucks of news organizations. For example: “Someone came up to me who I assumed was from Houston,” Van Susteren recalls. “She says ‘I know someone who has a house in Fort Collins, Colorado who can take a family. Is there anybody who wants to go to Fort Collins?'”

When Van Susteren left Houston to visit New Orleans on Sept. 6, she blogged: “It is with some regret that I leave Houston since we had met many evacuees and were working — on the side — to get them housing. My colleague Alicia Acuna is still there and will continue to do our housing placement work. What happens is that people come to our live site offering housing — or call us or e-mail us — so we try to match them up with families.”

In Houston, journalists helped point people in the right direction. In New Orleans, they provided more immediate help.

“We were in boats feeding animals,” she recalls. “I remember one day plucking a puppy off a roof with the military.”

Van Susteren emphasized the extraordinary nature of this story.

“This was no routine story where you’re standing in front of a prop,” she says. “This was an emergency. This was the middle of a crisis.”

She described New Orleans as “hell,” adding: “there’s no other way to describe it.”

She says it would have been obscene not to help: “Everybody in the media, everybody — satellite truck operators, print journalists, producers, audio people, bookers, everybody — was working around the clock. And when they weren’t working, they were doing the decent and honorable thing of helping.”