Koch Keeps Promises in New Book on Hurricane Katrina
Friday, July 23, 2010
Contact David Tisdale, 601.266.4499   

As much as it recounts her exemplary coverage of the worst natural disaster in modern American history, Kathleen Koch’s new book “Rising from Katrina: How My Mississippi Hometown Lost It All and Found What Mattered” is also a promise kept to those who told her their gripping stories of survival and recovery.

As a reporter for the Cable News Network (CNN), Bay St. Louis native and University of Southern Mississippi alumna Koch was on the ground covering Huricane Katrina's impact on the Gulf Coast, including her native Bay St. Louis, the subject of her acclaimed CNN documentary “Saving My Town: The Fight for Bay St. Louis,” followed by the sequel “The Town that Fought Back.”

With her new book, Koch believes she’s meeting an obligation to those who begged her to let the world know how Katrina devastated their lives. She couldn’t include all of them in her live reports from the Gulf Coast following the disaster but she didn’t forget them, keeping a journal of interviews and conversations she was determined to eventually share.

“There were so many stories that never made it on the air, and that happens to every journalist – so much ends up on the cutting room floor. But this was my town’s history, the Gulf Coast’s. It didn’t feel right to take those stories to the grave with me,” said Koch, now a freelance author and speaker who lives with her family in Clarksville, Md.

Koch reunited with friends and family in Bay St. Louis during her assignment, where her family’s former home, along with thousands of others, were wiped clean from their foundations by the storm’s devastating surge, estimated to be more than 30 feet high in some areas.

With the death toll and physical damage to homes, businesses, infrastructure and the emotional toll on survivors as a backdrop, Koch reported the grim details of the event to the nation and world. But she also reported the kindness of strangers, volunteers who came from across the country to help, and of the residents committed to rebuilding their beloved Mississippi Gulf Coast.

“The people there have such a deep faith and are so optimistic. You didn’t see a lot of outward anger from them with Katrina. But with my coverage, I felt like I was carrying their cause – I just had this anger in me. Why isn’t help coming sooner, why aren’t they getting paid for damages from the insurance companies?”

Returning to Maryland from her assignment on the Gulf Coast, Koch said it was wrenching to know that the people she had just left were doing without electricity and running water, conveniences she had at home.

“I mention in the book that this experience helped me understand how soldiers feel when they return home from war, the bond they have with their fellow soldiers they’ve had to leave behind, because when I had to return home to Maryland from the coast, I felt I had let them (friends and former neighbors) down.

“You just wanted to do everything and anything you could to help, so that was very difficult to be so far away.”

Koch has also written about the impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the region in an opinion piece for CNN.com.(http://www.cnn.com/2010/OPINION/07/06/koch.gulf.coast/index.html). She sees many comparisons to the oil spill situation and the storm. “Just like after Katrina, Gulf Coast residents are drawing on family, faith and their dedication to these communities – they’re also finding ways to take action,” she said.

She’s also encouraged to see some things coming back together in her hometown and along the Gulf Coast and New Orleans, post-Katrina. “Finally, Beach Road (in downtown Bay St. Louis) is restored, which is huge, and so many of the businesses have been coming back, casinos have reopened, so you’re seeing economic growth. But the sad thing is there are still more than 200 abandoned homes in Bay St. Louis.”

The book has helped Koch work through her own emotions and figure out how the storm impacted her personally. “There’s always a part of me that’s working to make sense of what happened, how people made it through and how it changed them,” she said.

“I think it’s like a scar – it has healed, but it will always be there. I believe that’s been true for me and anyone who grew up on the Gulf Coast,” she said. “But I think we’ve all emerged stronger, better and wiser. That’s the silver lining of the great cloud of Katrina.”

Koch graduated as salutatorian from Bay St. Louis High in 1977 before attending Southern Miss, where she majored in journalism with minors in French and political science. She was a student in the university’s prestigious Honors College, and was named Outstanding Freshman Woman in 1978. In 2007, she was inducted into the Southern Miss School of Mass Communication and Journalism’s Hall of Fame.

Endorsements of her new book come from her former colleague at CNN, Anderson Cooper; fellow Southern Miss alum and NFL great Brett Favre; renowned historian Doug Brinkley; and jazz legend Pete Fountain, who lost a home in Bay St. Louis to the storm.

Dr. Chris Campbell, director of the School of Mass Communication and Journalism, praised Koch’s career as a journalist, in particular her work covering the impact of Katrina. “Her passion for the Gulf Coast and Bay St. Louis was obvious in the two documentaries she produced in the year after the storm. I'm sure that passion surfaces in her new book.”

“Rising from Katrina: How My Mississippi Hometown Lost it All and Found What Mattered” is published by John F. Blair. A book signing will be held Monday, Aug. 9 from 5-7 p.m. at Main Street Books in downtown Hattiesburg, with another scheduled for Friday, Nov. 19 (time to be determined) at Barnes and Noble Bookstore at Southern Miss. To learn more about the book, online visit http://www.blairpub.com/alltitles/risingfromkatrina.htm


Kathleen Koch (photo by Ken Cedeno)

About The University of Southern MississippiThe University of Southern Mississippi, founded in 1910, is a comprehensive doctoral and research-extensive university fulfilling its mission of being a leading university in engaging and empowering individuals to transform lives and communities.  In a tradition of leadership for student development, Southern Miss is educating a 21st century work force providing intellectual capital, cultural enrichment and innovation to Mississippi and the world.  Southern Miss is located in Hattiesburg, Miss., with an additional campus and teaching and research sites on the Mississippi Gulf Coast; further information is found at www.usm.edu.
                                                                                          
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