ABC anchor and Mississippi Gulf Coast native Robin Roberts will return to the region to explore Hurricane Katrina’s legacy 10 years after the devastating disaster, in a new special called Katrina: 10 Years After the Storm, airing Aug. 23 on ABC.
Roberts will examine the remarkable recovery, see where it has fallen short, and celebrate the indomitable spirit that runs through New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Roberts’ coverage of Hurricane Katrina began during the darkest hours of the storm, when there were uncertainties for many, including Roberts’ own family, who were impacted by the hurricane in Pass Christian, Mississippi. Now, viewers are introduced to survivors and volunteers who have never before shared their stories of resilience and strength in the face of insurmountable odds.
Throughout the special, Roberts is joined by iconic Gulf Coast natives who continue to make a difference in the region. Actor and musician Harry Connick, Jr. and Grammy Award-winning jazz musician Terence Blanchard tell the moving story of how music helped restore the region after the storm. Blanchard, who scored Spike Lee’s documentary about Katrina – When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts – composed the original score for the ABC special as well. Roberts also uncovers the emotional stories of the survivors and community impacted by the storm.
In a recent email interview, Robin Roberts gave us more insight into the special:
You’ve been back to the Gulf Coast many times since Katrina, reporting on the recovery. How would you say things are there now? How much more is still to go? Do you think it will ever be back to the “normal” you may have recalled living there?
Robin Roberts: There has been tremendous progress over the last 10 years and there is still much work to be completed. It’s not just about rebuilding but also revitalizing the Gulf Coast. I was 8 years old when Hurricane Camille devastated the Mississippi Coast in 1969. Many thought at the time that the area would never recover. In time it came back even bigger and better. There’s no reason not to believe that will happen again.
Can you speak to the resilience of the people living there and working to rebuild and simply survive in the wake of the disaster? Is there something in the attitude and character of Gulf Coast residents that gives them a strength to endure? How much do they rely on each other and their faith?
There’s just something about the South and Southerners. We’re not afraid to roll up our sleeves and get to work. We know that hard times only make us stronger. What I appreciate most is that we are quick to help one another. It’s all about faith, family and friends. It takes real courage to believe the best is yet to come.
Do you think we as a nation learned anything from the Katrina disaster, in terms of both how we respond to disasters that have happened since, like Hurricane Sandy, and in simply having empathy for victims of such disasters?
I hope and believe that we as a nation have learned how better to respond to all types of disasters. There are better warning systems and evacuation plans in place now. However there’s always room for additional improvement. What warms my heart is to see the increased and genuine empathy for those affected by disasters. The public has always tended to respond quickly and then go back to their lives. There are countless stories of individuals and groups that have made numerous trips to the Coast since Katrina to provide assistance. Many college students all across the country are still devoting their spring breaks to rebuilding homes and any other unfinished recovery work.
Do you still have family in that area? How were they impacted by the disaster, and how are they faring now?
My sister Sally-Ann was displaced from her home in New Orleans for over a year. For the longest time her home was only one of a handful in her neighborhood to be restored. I visited her recently and was happy to see the return of many neighbors. However many businesses around her subdivision in New Orleans East have not returned. My sister Dorothy’s home in Long Beach, MS was severely damaged. She is now living in our family home in Pass Christian, MS. The first floor was completely destroyed by Katrina. But we know how blessed we are. Many lost their lives, others lost everything they own. I’m grateful that my family is thriving. In September Dorothy will open a new business in Pass Christian called Robin’s Nest in the Pass. It’s a gift shop that will celebrate the creative spirit.
How personally emotional has it been for you reporting on the Gulf all these years after Katrina, and particularly for this special? Was it your idea to host screenings of the special in the area prior to its TV premiere?
Of course these past 10 years have been emotional for me and many others. I’ve travelled back home numerous times to report on the recovery efforts. My mission was to make sure that the Coast was not forgotten. The Katrina Special is mainly about gratitude. I’m grateful for all the volunteers across this great nation who have helped us rebuild. I’m grateful for all the prayers that have been said on our behalf. I’m grateful for the resilient people of that region who continue to make me proud to say Mississippi is my beloved home.
Katrina: 10 Years After the Storm airs Aug. 23 at 10pm ET on ABC.
Robin Roberts with Hurricane Katrina survivor Syrena, who was rescued from the rooftop of her inner-city house: © 2015 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Credit: Rick Rowell