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Katrina Picture Project
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Photo: Sanja Gjenero
“We’re going to be part of the one-year report on Katrina! NBC Evening News had a camera crew and a senior producer here for more than six hours,” the caller’s voice vibrated with excitement. She went on to say how meaningful it was to have a chance to talk about the absolute joy in finding a few family pictures on-line, pictures that had been turned in up to 50 miles away—pictures that were reclaimed because two woman in Erie, Pennsylvania, saw a need to help people who had lost their homes. The senior producer said that the goal was to show viewers a positive side of the year of recovery.

The Picture Project (www.pictureproject.org) is the effort to collect photos found after Katrina, clean them, restore them, and post them on a Web site for people to claim. Zero cost for the first 10, nominal fee thereafter.

The front page of the site begins, “Salvaging memories one print at a time. Underneath the fallen roofs, scattered lumber and torn siding, a family portrait peaked out from behind a wedding photo - both splintered with broken glass from torn-apart frames. With so much clean up to do after the storm, these photographs quickly became labeled as un-repairable debris.

Drowned Past

“Hurricane Katrina hadn’t just changed the present and future lives of those living in southern Mississippi; she also drowned their past, leaving the memories faded and molded.

“Sue Weber and Connie Hawkins traveled to Mississippi the weekend of November 18, 2005. They arrived in Pascagoula the evening of November 19 and began delivering the drop off boxes to area Wal-Marts, making contact with the manager on duty at each store.

“The Picture Project was created in order to help the residents of Gulfport and Biloxi, Mississippi, retrieve photographs lost during Hurricane Katrina. Thousands of images have been collected and scanned in hopes of the owners finding them. For the first time so many memories that would be once lost or forgotten now have the chance to go back to southern Mississippi, to be reframed, put into new scrapbooks and for new generations to see.

“Kodak, the Biloxi Sun Herald, United Van Lines, and many other sponsors have helped to make this possible. If you or someone you know has lost photographs due to damage in the storm, please look through our albums to see if your memories can come back home.”

My caller said that the first picture she found in her zip code was of her two sons in a wagon. It was especially meaningful because the older son died in late February, six months after their home was destroyed and all belongings were scattered by tornadic winds. She was amazed that some photos had been found 50 miles away. These pictures bring back treasured occasions such as a tea party that her younger son did for his older brother who had begun suffering the effects of a terminal condition known as Battens Disease, a disease that is now claiming the younger son. This mother was especially grateful that instead of telling the Gulf Coast residents what they should be doing, the women from Erie, Pennsylvania., had found the need and created a way to help.

Despite the hours of interviews over two days, this heartwarming story didn’t make it to air. Instead, interviews with politicians about promises made but not yet fulfilled marked the one-year anniversary of lives turned upside down and inside out.

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