The annual string of television specials on Hurricane Katrina stopped appearing on the networks several days ago as the nation's attention turned to 9/11 tributes. It wasn't a slight as much as an example of how things work. Katrina hit New Orleans on Aug. 29, 2005. Eighty percent of the city was underwater two days later. So with that timeline in mind, CNN sent Anderson Cooper to the French Quarter at the end of August, left him there for a few days, and then it was on to the next one, the words "terrorism" and "Ground Zero" replacing "levees" and "flooding."
Again, I understand.
But it really does discount things.
Because, as I type, it's Sept. 11, 2010. And though nobody spent today focused on New Orleans, five years ago today we absolutely still were because the city remained in shambles, people continued to struggle, and Jahmal Burroughs hadn't even yet been reunited with his mother.
"It worried me all day, everyday," Burroughs told CBSSports.com by phone. "I always wondered what she was doing, if she was still alive. It almost worried me to death because it was the only thought in my head during that time."
Burroughs is a first-year basketball player at Chattanooga. His story is a real Katrina story, and it should serve as a reminder that the uncertainty surrounding those involved didn't go away when the storm left the city, or even when the waters started to subside. His story began on Aug. 29 just like everybody else's story. Then the levees broke, the city flooded, and Burroughs suddenly found himself helping his best friend guide an inflatable pool filled with children from a house taking on water to a bridge high enough to be considered safe.
"The water was up to my stomach when we went from the house to the bridge," Burroughs said. "And I'm 6-foot-6."
Burroughs lived on that bridge for the next three days. He had food for two of them, then looted -- ''We had to loot to survive," he said -- so he'd have food for the third. After three days of living there, Burroughs' group found a boat and floated to the Superdome. They spent four days there, then took a bus to Houston, and it wasn't until this weekend -- this same weekend five years ago -- that Burroughs and his mother, Donna Hulbert, finally reunited in Texas.
"It was a sigh of relief," Burroughs said. "I really didn't know if she was alive."
The truth is that there's nothing all that unique about Burroughs' story. Nobody in his family died. No friends died, either. His mother is now back living in New Orleans. So all things considered, things were and are OK. In fact, you could actually describe Burroughs as lucky, which is insane considering he was stuck on a bridge for three days, had to float to safety, and was apart from his mother for two weeks despite living in the United States of America.
And that's what's important to remember about Katrina -- that it was so bad Burroughs' story, as awful as it is, is a relatively fortunate tale. Another thing worth remembering is that Katrina wasn't a two-day problem or one-week worry. Five years later, we devoted a few days of coverage to the disaster, maybe a week. But that's not nearly as long as it took some families to reunite 350 miles away from their homes, a Chattanooga basketball player and his mother serving as just one example.