Revisiting Katrina Families
In discussing plans for coverage of this week's anniversary, "The Early Show" wanted to revisit some of those memorable locations from a year earlier, "so I suggested that we pick a few people to follow up with," said Smith. No sooner than she'd opened her mouth with that suggestion, however, she realized that there were two families she had in mind that she wasn't sure she'd be able to get a hold of.
She had, however, remained in contact with the Langsfords, the couple who had been separated from their premature son, who was airlifted along with more than 100 other infants when their New Orleans hospital flooded. The family was featured in an earlier follow-up story on "The Early Show" in February. (You can watch it
The two other families that ended up in this week's follow-up report, however, took a bit more work to track down.
The Levys had spent six days in the New Orleans Convention Center last year. After Katrina, they had moved to Texas, said Smith, and initial attempts to get in touch with them weren't successful because their phone wasn't working properly. Smith managed to reach them eventually, and learned they were returning to New Orleans, but then lost touch again right before "The Early Show" returned to the city. So, once Smith arrived in New Orleans, "we went to their apartment complex and started knocking on doors," she said. And eventually, the Levys were found.
Smith began tracking down the Owens family -- which she and the crew had last seen after dropping them off on dry land last year – by first searching through public records on Lexis-Nexis. With the first names of three Owens family members, she started making phone calls – to the many Owenses listed in New Orleans – and found many of the numbers disconnected.
Among her many calls to Owenses, "I got a hold of this woman who wasn't related to them and didn't know them," and as it happened, Smith had, unfortunately, reached the woman right after a funeral for a member of her family. "She had just been to a funeral and all these people were at her house. And she got out the phone book and started reading off about ten numbers to me, right at this worst possible moment of her life," said Smith. "It absolutely broke my heart."
The sleuthing eventually placed Smith on Magnolia St. in New Orleans, "which sounded familiar," said Smith. There she found a man who led her to the Owenses' sister, who put her in touch with the Owenses, now living in Baton Rouge.
With that, Smith and the crew traveled to Baton Rouge to visit the Owenses, who were "very eager to talk." Dolly Owens "seemed really glad to finally talk about it," said Smith. "She really hadn't talked about [what the family had been through] with anyone," so their conversation seemed somewhat cathartic. "I literally walked in the door and for the next hour she talked."
"It's fairly rare" to be able to revisit interview subjects from past stories, said Smith. "So often, we're in and out of people's lives ….I was grateful to reconnect with them, and hopefully it was good for them as well."
"We've all now said that we'll keep in touch," Smith added. "Hopefully we don't have to wait for another anniversary to meet them again."