The Digital Journalist
Working for Time

by Chris Usher

Time magazine assigned me to follow my nose to wherever the Hurricane Katrina story was. My initial inclination was to go to Gulfport, Miss., because that is where it looked like the storm was going to hit the hardest. When we (Jay Clendenin and I) got to Meridian, Miss., we had to make a decision. We were driving down Hwy. 59, head-to-head with Katrina, and there were bands of tornadoes that were flattening towns according to the news reports we were getting via cell phone and XM Radio. We went west on Hwy. 20 to Jackson from Meridian to avoid the tornadoes and to keep moving.

9/1/05 -- Waveland, Miss.--Members of the Virginia Emergency Search and Rescue task unit search tidal surge areas in Waveland after Hurricane Katrina.

Photo by Chris Usher
From there, we had two choices: take Hwy. 55 straight down to New Orleans and try to get in from west of the city or bypass it altogether and go to Gulfport. We tried New Orleans but the Louisiana Highway Patrol had all the roads blocked. The only way in meant abandoning my Land Cruiser and going in on foot. I wasn't going to do that and risk having someone steal the car, so we headed for Gulfport. I drove down to the area on Sunday afternoon, before the storm hit.

I went into New Orleans twice - the first time on board a Blackhawk transport with the Air National Guard on a night op; the second time with General Honore. Both times I was fortunate to be able to helo in, shoot for an extended period, and helo back out.

9/1/05 -- Pass Christian, Miss. -- The Kutos camp for their fourth day on the beach as they wait for help to arrive after Hurricane Katrina.

Photo by Chris Usher
I covered Gulfport, Long Beach, Waveland, Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian, Biloxi, Jackson, Hattiesburg, and Meridian, Miss.; Madisonville, New Orleans and Baton Rouge, La., and Pensacola, Fla.

It is impossible to adequately capture my reactions by stills or video. The devastation stretched as far as the eye could see and farther than the mind could comprehend. The Antebellum mansions on the coast were reduced to rubble. Then, the despair of the people. It was a war zone, but it was in the U.S.A. Everywhere I went, it was the same. Hundreds of miles of destruction, and later, the smell.

8/31/05 -- Pass Christian, Miss. -- Homes and inhabitants of Pass Christian after Hurricane Katrina.

Photo by Chris Usher
Working for TIME, I didn't have to file daily which made it easier to deal with the lack of Internet access. The first time I filed, the Friday after the storm hit, I was shooting in the Gulfport area. My assistant figured out three options for us: Baton Rouge, La. (134 miles west), Pensacola, Fla. (132 miles east) or the gracious folks at the Gulfport Sun Herald.

The problem was that we both needed a shower badly and with no cell phone access in Gulfport, we were an hour away (headed east) when we finally reached my assistant to find out our options. So, I ended up filing from a hotel in Pensacola, Fla. I sent film out via FedEx on Thursday from Jackson, Miss., and filed the digital stuff back in Jackson for the current news.

8/29/05 -- Madisonville, La. -- Josh Thomas, carrying their cat Minnie, and his father Gerry Thomas make their way back to their home on Route 22 just north of Lake Maurepas near New Orleans.

Photo by Chris Usher
I went down with enough supplies to get me through a week if necessary, but I ended up giving a lot of it away to the hurricane victims I met. In Mississippi, the relief centers were set up within the first few days, and the military units I traveled with had plenty of supplies.

I met the Kutos family on my first day in Gulfport. When I went back to the beach area where they were living four days later, I was surprised no one had come to take them to a shelter. When they asked me to please help them get to a shelter, it was just as the light was getting good, but how could I say no? So, I helped them into my truck and drove them to a shelter about 2 or 3 miles away. I promised them I'd call Ray's mother in North Carolina, but I couldn't get through. I had my assistant call them and she got them connected last I heard.

© Chris Usher

Born and raised in St. Louis, Mo., Chris Usher graduated from the University of Indiana at Bloomington in 1988. He interned at the Louisville Courier-Journal and the Miami Herald before accepting a staff position at the Orlando Sentinel. In 1990, he went freelance and moved to Washington, D.C. Usher's work appears regularly in domestic and international monthly and weekly publications. In between assignments, Usher continues his documentation of behind-the-scenes moments at the White House for his "Behind the Velvet Rope" project and produces manipulated SX-70 Polaroids. He currently lives in Alexandria, Va. When he isn't working on assignment, Chris would rather be fly-fishing in Montana.
See more of Chris' work at

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