Friday, October 14, 2005, Hattiesburg, MS: Within minutes of our arrival, we were told by a cultural rep, “We’ve been assessed to death, what we really need now is money.” This was followed by the self-aggrandizing pronouncements of the FEMA representative, who was fortunate to leave the room in possession of all of his body parts! In essence, he told the assembled crowd, “Look how much we’re doing for you people! Now, your museums and libraries are not eligible for any money nor help from us, but look at how we’re helping the real businesses get back online.” The resentment in the room was palpable. Tomorrow morning will entail a rapid drive to Gulfport to attend a National Trust meeting; if the FEMA guy is there, I think I’ll shoot him!
The date of October 14, 2005, might not mean much to anyone…the excerpt was from my travel journal. A date a few weeks earlier… August 29, 2005… means a great deal to the people who survived Hurricane Katrina.
I remember August 29th very clearly. The non-historic TV in the historic mansion I manage was tuned to CNN – the screen filled with horrific scenes of a massive hurricane wiping the Gulf Coast off the map. Then the phone began to ring, it was my boss who had his father, the Chairman of our Board of Trustees on his cellphone. The theme was, “we are losing history here, what can WE do.” By WE our Chairman meant the Watson-Brown Foundation. I called the only person I felt could answer that question, Terry Davis at AASLH.
What ensued was a pretty incredible collaboration by AASLH, the Watson-Brown Foundation, the History Channel, the AIC, and museum professionals across the nation – an effort called HEART. Teams of conservation and museum professionals were sent in to Mississippi and Louisiana to help museums and historic sites recover collections.
The true cost of Katrina cannot be calculated –1800 human lives, countless animal lives, hundreds of National Register and other historic structures all lost to the destructive
power of nature. But what have we learned? Where are we now? What happens if, on August 29, 2015, another Category 4 hurricane heads toward the U.S. – are we ready?
At the AASLH Annual Meeting in Louisville hear from some of the HEART Team members who were there on the ground in the weeks following Katrina. Friday, September 18th, 4:00pm — Stories from the HEART: 10 Years After Katrina and Rita.
— Michelle Zupan, Curator & Director, Hickory Hill, Thomson, GA; AASLH Historic House Committee Chair