There are certain assignments in a photojournalist’s life that leave lasting memories. Hurricane Katrina was one of those assignments. It was two days into the devastation of one of America’s great cities when I was asked by People to jump on a flight and head to New Orleans. The magazine was putting ten writer/photographer teams together to help chronicle the worst natural disaster to strike the United States.

All Photographs © Todd Bigelow/2005. For Licensing, Click on The Image or Email legal[at]toddbigelowphotography[dot]com

NEW ORLEANS, LA – September 4, 2005: Search and rescue operations continue on Sept. 4, 2005 as fire fighters from Jefferson Parrish use a boat they borrowed to search for bodies and any last remaining survivors in need of evacuation. © Todd Bigelow

When working in rapidly changing environments for a national magazine, assignment specifics fly in only to be altered within hours. That’s normal as stories of heroism and tragedy begin to surface.  And Hurricane Katrina had countless stories of tragedy and heroism as New Orleans was inundated by floodwaters and the entire population ordered to evacuate. Landing in Shreveport, the reporter and I made our way to evacuation shelters to begin working, but were soon rerouted to find a doctor in Mississippi who was apparently treating evacuees in a Jackson hotel after his own home was destroyed. Off we went.

Shortly thereafter, we were rerouted and told to try to make it into New Orleans, which by now was nearly sealed off by National Guard and other law enforcement. Our new assignment was to find a family that was waiting to be rescued from the flood waters and accompany them as they were evacuated from the city. Wherever they went, we were to go as well. We managed to talk our way through roadblocks and onto a rescue boat. The boat weaved through endless debris, dead bodies and street signs as firefighters searched for anyone remaining in the submerged city. Once back on land, we headed to the airport where helicopters were landing and trucks unloaded evacuees. Luggage carts were put into action and filled with human cargo destined for the terminal. I saw a woman clutching a Martin Luther King, Jr fan and began making photos of her and her family. Her name was Julia Chaney and she’d lost nearly everything but that fan and a few photos. She had such a peace about her, that presence that reassures us in unspoken words that all will eventually be okay.

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - September 4, 2005: Evacuee Julia Chaney was able to evacuate New Orleans with two sons, her future in-laws, and her Dr. Martin Luther King prayer fan which she held for days without letting go while waiting to be saved. She was escorted from a military helicopter after being evacuated from their flooded neighborhood to the city's airport on September 4, 2005 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The evacuees are then hustled from the helicopter onto waiting cargo carts ( normally used to move luggage) and rushed into the airport where they receive medical attention. Shortly after entering the airport, evacuees are screened and divided nto groups of 50 and told to go to a certain boarding gate. Evacuees only find out the destination of the flight, and their new temporary home, once the flight is taking off. (Photo by Todd Bigelow/Aurora)

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA – September 4, 2005: Evacuee Julia Chaney was able to evacuate New Orleans with two sons, her future in-laws, and her Dr. Martin Luther King prayer fan which she held for days without letting go while waiting to be saved. She was escorted from a military helicopter after being evacuated from their flooded neighborhood to the city’s airport on September 4, 2005 in New Orleans, Louisiana. ©Todd Bigelow

Once inside the airport, the Chaney family agreed to let us accompany them on their journey to a unknown city. With only the clothes on their back and a few possessions, we boarded a flight. No one had a clue where the plane was heading. Once the doors were sealed, the flight crew had some reassuring words before announcing that everyone was heading to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I had my camera bag, my computer and the clothes I was wearing. Everything else remained behind in a rental car at the airport.

NEW ORLEANS, LA - September 4, 2005: Evacuees from New Orleans were being flown to the city's airport via helicopter and unloaded on the tarmac. Unloaded on the tarmac in a scene similar to that of a war zone evacuation, they were then hustled from the helicopter onto waiting cargo carts ( normally used to move luggage) and rushed amid a throng of volunteers and into the airport where they received medical attention. Shortly after entering the airport, evacuees were screened and divided nto groups of 50 and told to go to a certain boarding gate. Evacuees only find out the destination of the flight, and their new temporary home, after boarding the flight. (Photo by Todd Bigelow/Aurora)..Chaney family is flown to West Palm, Beach, Florida. They had no idea where they were heading until the plane's doors were closed.......Members of the Chaney family, Kenneth (large man with straw hat), Anthony (other man with shorts), Elaine (younger woman), and Julia (woman with MLK prayer fan and hat--she's Ken's and Anthony's mother). Joseph (yellow shirt,using cane to walk) and Velma (red shorts and white ball cap). Joseph and Velma are Elaine's parents...... (Last name TK--check with reporter ken lee)..

NEW ORLEANS, LA – September 4, 2005: Kenneth Chaney evacuates on a flight from New Orleans.

NEW ORLEANS, LA - September 4, 2005: Evacuees from New Orleans were being flown to the city's airport via helicopter and unloaded on the tarmac. Unloaded on the tarmac in a scene similar to that of a war zone evacuation, they were then hustled from the helicopter onto waiting cargo carts ( normally used to move luggage) and rushed amid a throng of volunteers and into the airport where they received medical attention. Shortly after entering the airport, evacuees were screened and divided nto groups of 50 and told to go to a certain boarding gate. Evacuees only find out the destination of the flight, and their new temporary home, after boarding the flight. (Photo by Todd Bigelow/Aurora)..Chaney family arrives in West Palm, Beach, Florida. As the plane approached, Anthony took out a map to see exactly where West Palm Beach was.........They were greeted and placed on air conditioned buses and taken to a beautiful, private apartment complex in Boynton Beach.......Members of the Chaney family, Kenneth (large man with straw hat), Anthony (other man with shorts), Elaine (younger woman), and Julia (woman with MLK prayer fan and hat--she's Ken's and Anthony's mother). Joseph (yellow shirt,using cane to walk) and Velma (red shorts and white ball cap). Joseph and Velma are Elaine's parents...... (Last name TK--check with reporter ken lee)..

NEW ORLEANS, LA – September 4, 2005: Anthony Chaney looks where Palm Beach, Florida is located after the flight crew announced that was their destination. The evacuees had no idea where they were going until the doors were closed on the airplane.

 

The final destination in the middle of the night was a thoroughbred facility in tony Palm Beach, about as far from reality as one could imagine having left a city of death and destruction only hours before. The upscale racehorse complex had been converted to a shelter for the evacuees. After a short few hours of sleep, I began sending images to New York showing the Chaney family’s evacuation from New Orleans, but by then the story had changed.

NEW ORLEANS, LA - September 4, 2005: Evacuees from New Orleans were being flown to the city's airport via helicopter and unloaded on the tarmac. Unloaded on the tarmac in a scene similar to that of a war zone evacuation, they were then hustled from the helicopter onto waiting cargo carts ( normally used to move luggage) and rushed amid a throng of volunteers and into the airport where they received medical attention. Shortly after entering the airport, evacuees were screened and divided nto groups of 50 and told to go to a certain boarding gate. Evacuees only find out the destination of the flight, and their new temporary home, after boarding the flight. (Photo by Todd Bigelow/Aurora)..Chaney family is flown to West Palm, Beach, Florida. They had no idea where they were heading until the plane's doors were closed.......Members of the Chaney family, Kenneth (large man with straw hat), Anthony (other man with shorts), Elaine (younger woman), and Julia (woman with MLK prayer fan and hat--she's Ken's and Anthony's mother). Joseph (yellow shirt,using cane to walk) and Velma (red shorts and white ball cap). Joseph and Velma are Elaine's parents...... (Last name TK--check with reporter ken lee)..

NEW ORLEANS, LA – September 4, 2005: Chaney family is flown to West Palm, Beach, Florida. They had no idea where they were heading until the plane’s doors were closed. © Todd Bigelow

PALM BEACH, LA - September 5, 2005: .Chaney family enjoy their first morning outside the ravaged New Orleans at the complex housing them in Palm Beach, Florida on Sept 5, 20006. They wanted to read newspapers and catch up on the news and find new clothes....Members of the Chaney family, Kenneth (large man with Laker jersey), Anthony (other man with white t shirt), Elaine (flower dress and hat), and Julia (woman with blue dress, hat and glasses--she's Ken's and Anthony's mother). Joseph (older man using cane to walk) and Velma (white ball cap). Joseph and Velma are Elaine's parents...... (Last name TK--check with reporter ken lee)..

PALM BEACH, LA – Kenneth Chaney makes his way back to his new, temporary housing at the evacuation shelter with a bag full of donated clothes. © Todd Bigelow

PALM BEACH, LA - September 5, 2005: .Chaney family enjoy their first morning outside the ravaged New Orleans at the complex housing them in Palm Beach, Florida on Sept 5, 20006. They wanted to read newspapers and catch up on the news and find new clothes....Members of the Chaney family, Kenneth (large man with Laker jersey), Anthony (other man with white t shirt), Elaine (flower dress and hat), and Julia (woman with blue dress, hat and glasses--she's Ken's and Anthony's mother). Joseph (older man using cane to walk) and Velma (white ball cap). Joseph and Velma are Elaine's parents...... (Last name TK--check with reporter ken lee)..

PALM BEACH, LA – September 5, 2005: Julia Chaney holds one of the photos she was able to salvage from her flooded, New Orleans home. © Todd Bigelow

The new focus was to be on how Katrina had affected kids. I went out and began photographing the children who were quickly filling the upscale shelter in an attempt to capture their emotions.

Hurricane Katrina evacuees at Florida shelter photographed for People Magazine.

WEST PALM BEACH, FL – September 6, 2005: Michelle Johnson, 27, cradles her baby, I-Shelle, 7 months, at a evacuation shelter in West Palm Beach, FL on Sept, 6, 2005. The Johnson family evacuated New Orleans after being stranded for days in their flooded home and having to watch dead bodies float by. Photo © Todd Bigelow

WEST PALM BEACH, FL - September 6, 2005: A evacuee family passes time outside their room at a shelter for hurricane survivors on Sept 6, 2005 in West Palm Beach, Florida. Rosa Angelatta, white t-shirt, her daughter Sandra Smith (in red) and Angelatta's grandson, Kenneth, 11, playing with Sandra's niece, Eleanora, 5. (Photo by Todd Bigelow/Aurora)

WEST PALM BEACH, FL – September 6, 2005: A evacuee family passes time outside their room at a shelter for hurricane survivors on Sept 6, 2005 in West Palm Beach, Florida. Rosa Angelatta, white t-shirt, her daughter Sandra Smith (in red) and Angelatta’s grandson, Kenneth, 11, playing with Sandra’s niece, Eleanora, 5. © Todd Bigelow

PALM BEACH, LA - September 6, 2005: .Families and their children at the Palm Meadows complex in West Palm Beach, Florida on September 6, 2005...The Johnson Family: Father is Kevin Johnson, 38, wife is Michelle Johnson, 27, daughter My-Shelle, 8, son Kevin the 3rd (nickname "Ope"), 7, son Kevin the 4th (nicknamed "Old Man"), 5, Kevin the 5th (Nickname "Little Kevin"), 2 and baby in stroller is I-Shelle, 7 months. The family is walking and playing a game called Under the Bridge.....Family outside their room is Rosa Angelatta, her daughter Sandra Smith (in red) and her grandson, Kenneth, 11, playing with Sandra's niece, Eleanora, 5...Girl with large Tweety Bird doll: Chelsea Gair, 7, walking to her room with stuffed Tweety Bird. They evacuated from New Orleans.

PALM BEACH, LA – September 6, 2005: Families and their children at the Palm Meadows complex in West Palm Beach, Florida. ©Todd Bigelow

WEST PALM BEACH, FL - September 6, 2005: My-Shelle Johnson, 8, walks at a evacuation shelter with her little brother, Kevin Johnson the 5th, 2 yrs, on Sept 6, 2005 in West Palm Beach, Florida. The shelter is called Palm Meadows and is a training facility for thoroughbred horses. The Johnson family evacuated New Orleans after being stranded for days in their flooded home and having to watch dead bodies float by. (Photo by Todd Bigelow/Aurora)

WEST PALM BEACH, FL – September 6, 2005: My-Shelle Johnson, 8, walks at a evacuation shelter with her little brother, Kevin Johnson the 5th, 2 yrs, on Sept 6, 2005 in West Palm Beach, Florida. The Johnson family evacuated New Orleans after being stranded for days in their flooded home and having to watch dead bodies float by. Photo © Todd Bigelow

By now it was the end of the week and People was putting together their Katrina issue for the newsstands. I transmitted my photos, went to a nearby Target to buy a shirt, shorts and essentials and had one last night in Palm Beach before flying back to Los Angeles. A few days later, Time magazine asked that I photograph the evacuees at a Los Angeles shelter that had also filled with evacuees, the same sad and shocked faces that I had just left the day before, just in a different city.

WEST PALM BEACH, FL - September 6, 2005: Michelle Johnson, 27, cradles her baby, I-Shelle, 7 months, at a evacuation shelter in West Palm Beach, FL on Sept, 6, 2005. The shelter is called Palm Meadows and is a training facility for thoroughbred horses. The Johnson family evacuated New Orleans after being stranded for days in their flooded home and having to watch dead bodies float by. (Photo by Todd Bigelow/Aurora)

WEST PALM BEACH, FL – September 6, 2005: Michelle Johnson, 27, cradles her baby, I-Shelle, 7 months, at a evacuation shelter in West Palm Beach, FL on Sept, 6, 2005. The Johnson family evacuated New Orleans after being stranded for days in their flooded home and having to watch dead bodies float by. Photo © Todd Bigelow

WEST PALM BEACH, FL- September 6, 2005: Chelsea Gair, 7, walks to her room with a stuffed Tweety Bird doll on Sept. 6, 2005. She and her family evacuated from New Orleans and were flown to West Palm Beach, Floridan and sheltered at Palm Meadows, a thoroughbred training facility. (Photo by Todd Bigelow/Aurora)

WEST PALM BEACH, FL- September 6, 2005: Chelsea Gair, 7, walks to her room with a stuffed Tweety Bird doll on Sept. 6, 2005. She and her family evacuated from New Orleans and were flown to West Palm Beach, Florida and sheltered at Palm Meadows, a thoroughbred training facility. Photo © Todd Bigelow

LOS ANGELES, CA - September 9, 2005: Allison Caesh and her son Randy, 4, spend time in their room crowded with donated items at the Dream Center, a shelter for Hurricane Katrina evacuees in Los Angeles, California on September 9, 2005. (Photo by Todd Bigelow/Aurora)..

LOS ANGELES, CA – September 9, 2005: Allison Caesh and her son Randy, 4, spend time in their room crowded with donated items at the Dream Center, a shelter for Hurricane Katrina evacuees in Los Angeles, California on September 9, 2005. Photo © Todd Bigelow

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