“[W]hen a storm threatens, everyone is a hurricane reporter.”
— James O’Byrne, The Times-Picayune of New Orleans
As we observe the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, two enterprising reporters of The Times-Picayune of New Orleans recounted how they used their bicycles to gather news of the devastation just hours after Katrina roared through the city.
James O’Byrne and Doug MacCash, like other Times-Picayune employees, came to the newspaper on Sunday night, Aug. 28, 2005, to ride out the storm and to be ready to begin reporting as soon as it was safe to venture outside.
“We had brought our bicycles with us, confident that we could reach places on Monday by bicycle that we couldn’t reach by car, because of downed trees and power lines, and of course, water,” O’Byrne wrote in a remembrance, “Bicycling into the heart of the flood,” posted on the Times-Picayune website, NOLA.com, on Thursday.
At the time, O’Byrne was the newspaper’s features editor and MacCash was its art critic. “But when a storm threatens, everyone is a hurricane reporter,” O’Byrne wrote.
“We were just two of dozens of Times-Picayune journalists who ventured out into the city as the winds died down on Monday, trying to understand and photograph the magnitude of the storm’s damage.”
As they rode through the devastated city, they came to the realization that flooding caused by a breach in the 17th Street Canal seawall had “swallowed up both of our Lakeview homes.”
Five years later, the two recreated their bike ride for a Times-Picayune video. It includes photographs of areas taken just after the storm, compared with how they look now, and interviews with some of the New Orleans residents the reporters encountered on their ride through the flood.
After 9 1/2 hours of reporting and taking photos with a small digital camera, “we returned to the newsroom through a pitch-black city, and joined our colleagues in reporting what we had seen.”