“Let me let you in on a little secret,” Robin Roberts says.
The Good Morning America anchor is on the telephone from New York, describing her post-Katrina trip to the Gulf Coast.
“ABC thought I was there to work,” she says. “But I was there to find my family!”
Roberts is a native of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. On Aug. 29, 2005, Roberts was live on GMA until noon. She lost contact with her Mississippi relatives at 10am that morning. Within hours, Roberts was aboard a chartered flight to the Gulf Coast. After it landed in Lafayette, Louisiana, the crew drove all night long toward Roberts’ family home near Gulfport.
By 5:30 a.m., Roberts was walking the last half-mile to her mother’s house.
“I got back to our satellite truck site about 10 minutes before airtime,” Roberts says.
Sunrise revealed a shocking landscape.
“I believed, like so many people, that we had dodged one. We had missed it. But to see it that morning, as the sun’s coming up, to see it live like that–” she grasps for words– “This is a place I knew like the back of my hand. And I had no clue where I was, on this road I’ve traveled for decades.”
That’s when she lost it.
“I broke down, live on TV,” she recalls.
She calls it “the most surreal moment of my life, and career.”
After tearing up, she heard the producers from New York in her hear, asking if she was okay.
“I thought I was going to lose my job,” she recalls. “People are going to say you just don’t do that. You just don’t show that type of raw emotion. I was shocked, not surprised, shocked that the response was 180 of that. That they were crying with me.”
After the broadcast, Roberts went back to her mother’s house. Then she tried to check out her family home in Pass Christian.
To this day, the house is still gutted. Roberts says losing the house was hard, but seeing her high school in rubble was even harder.
“If your home is destroyed, you can deal with it. You can rebuild,” she says. “When your hometown is gone, how do you rebuild a hometown?”
On the air, Roberts didn’t have to say “Where’s FEMA?” or “Where’s the Red Cross?” She didn’t have to say anything.
“I was just there, as these other outlets were,” she says. And people on their own, sitting in their living rooms, could say ‘Wait a minute. So the news media can get there, but the other agencies that are trained to get there, can’t?'”
She adds: “Maybe I was a little more motivated, because I had family there.”