Isaac brings back Tucson ties to Hurricane Katrina

  • Play

Video by

Isaac brings back Tucson ties to Hurricane Katrina

CREATED Aug 29, 2012

Reporter: Craig Smith

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - As Hurricane Isaac pounds the Gulf Coast.  It's bringing back memories of Hurricane Katrina---that reach all the way back to Tucson.
9 on Your Side's Craig Smith was in Katrina's impact zone soon after the storm went through.

Long Beach, Mississippi has been getting pounded by Isaac. We saw the same area after Hurricane Katrina roared through.  Neighborhoods were leveled, with debris piled almost roof high around the few homes that remained.
In Gulfport, Mississippi we found a neighborhood smashed by huge bundles of lumber washed in from a cargo yard...and we met Jeff Pounders, who showed us what five feet of water did to his house.
He thought it was a good idea to ride out the storm, first in a tree, then on his roof.
Here's where we mention Jeff worked as a counselor helping kids avoid bad decisions.

He conceded: "First thing I did when I got to safety was look in in a mirror and I couldn't quite counsel my self."
People running from Katrina's aftermath ran all the way to Tucson.  Local Red Cross director Richard White remembers being part of a team of agencies asked to help prepare a huge shelter in the Tucson Convention Center. 

He says, "The mayor asked us to have a thousand places, beds and so forth by five o'clock.  We were ready by one o'clock in the afternoon for a thousand people."
Only about 87 ended up in that shelter but the memory of one still sticks with him.  His name is Joseph Despenza.
Even as the flood water rose around his house, Joseph would not leave his roof until a helicopter crew agreed to rescue not just him but his saxophone too.
Like the musician he is, he remembers Katrina by the sound.

"Like a giant had a million cats in his hand, swirling them around in the air and he wouldn't let them go. Yow…yow…yow.  The sound kills you.  The sound can make your heart stop. You can die from fright."
The Red Cross helped Joseph get some money making music gigs, and even helped him get the false teeth he needed.  For years paying a New Orleans dentist five dollars a week to make him some teeth.  Floods destroyed the dentist office and the teeth. So White and the Red Cross managed to get a Tucson dentist to make Joseph his teeth.

"He said, you know I've been in New Orleans my whole life, I'm 68 years old, I've been treated with more respect and love in Tucson, Arizona, I've never been here before, he said, I'm staying here.  He said I've never been treated like a man in my entire life and I'm staying here because of the Red Cross and because of the warmth of the Tucson community."

Years later it's not clear whether Joseph is still here in Tucson.  It's hard to get a good picture of how many Katrina evacuees did stay here.
It's important to note disasters like Isaac put a lot of demand on the Red Cross.  Richard White says there's almost 80 shelters set up in the hurricane zone.  That means donations are more welcome than ever.  You can call Red Cross of Southern Arizona at 520-318-6740, donate $10 through your cell phone bill by texting 90999, or visit their office at 2916 E. Broadway, Tucson, 85716