Without pictures, most accounts of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation would hardly seem believable.
SUVs trapped in 8 feet of water on the interstate. Looters wading through downtown New Orleans streets. Morbid messages scribbled on rooftops. Anxious residents floating on mattresses and planks. Bottled water falling from military helicopters like manna from heaven. Makeshift graves constructed on sidewalks.
These are inadequate word descriptions of the photos that ran through The Associated Press wire after Katrina hit the Bayou. AP photographers let their surreal images of absolute desolation do the talking, leaving many Americans speechless.
“We saw several strong portfolios of the Katrina devastation, but this was the one that moved us the most,” said the judges. “The pictures in the group conveyed a real sense of immediacy and despair.”
To be in position to document the catastrophic event with incredible intimacy, the news service’s staff not only sacrificed traditional comforts, but also put their lives in danger.
“They worked without power or phones, slept atop cars, waded through putrid water, braved near-riotous crowds and sometimes gunfire,” said Chuck Zoeller, director of the AP photo library. “Through their wits, their instincts and their unflagging dedication to conveying the horrors of Hurricane Katrina, Associated Press photographers captured the most intimate moments of devastation and despair — as well as perseverance and hope.”
AP photographers Rick Bowmer, Rob Carr, Mari Darr-Welch, Mel Evans, Eric Gay, Bill Haber, Donna McWilliam, Dave Martin, David J. Phillip, Ben Sklar and Susan Walsh all roughed the hurricane’s gulf coast wrath.
“The commitment and coverage never wavered,” Zoeller said. “From bureaus around the country often toting gasoline, food and water to replenish scarce supplies, AP photographers made their way to Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas to report a tragedy that many in this country found nearly impossible to grasp.”
Many of the most enduring AP pictures were seen through the lens of Gay, including his shots of a crying woman sitting on a makeshift raft next to her dead husband, a young black girl holding hands with an elderly white woman while being evacuated from the New Orleans Convention Center, and an old woman draped in an American flag.
“Many of the telling photos were made by Eric Gay, but the work of the AP photographers as a whole brought this portfolio to the top,” the judges said.