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Clarksville resident chronicles former hometown's Katrina recovery

August 23, 2010|By Janene Holzberg, Special to The Baltimore Sun

"I decided that if I expected interviewees to be brutally honest, then I couldn't be anything less," she said. Her teenage daughters, Kaitlyn and Kara McNaney, occasionally found her crying at her computer keyboard as she typed revealing personal information others might have chosen to keep secret.

To provide balance in her life, she serves meals to the needy at Wilde Lake Interfaith Center twice a month and makes sure to get to the gym to get much-needed endorphins pumping.

In the end, the book was her "final healing," she said. But there were other emotions to confront.

In the immediate aftermath of Katrina, the people of Bay St. Louis had looked to her with hope and the expectation that she could "fix things," since she was a TV reporter who could bring media attention to the town's plight.

"But I only offered a thimble's worth of help for an ocean of need," she said. "This book is my way of delivering on a promise that I would never let anyone forget what happened there. While reporting is ephemeral, a book is final and permanent."

And so it's not surprising that Bay St. Louis has been reaching out to the author since the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in April sent millions of gallons of oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico, making the BP oil spill the largest in U.S. history.

In response, she penned a column for CNN's opinion website, describing "the first black tar balls and foul patties" washing up on the beaches of her adopted hometown during the annual crab feast on the Fourth of July.

"Hurricane Katrina was like an amputation — a swift, crippling and traumatic blow. … The oil spill is a like a slow-moving plague," she wrote online last month.

While Koch is keeping busy with her book tour, she has her eye on future TV projects.

"But I had the same gut reaction to the oil spill as I did to Katrina — to write everything down as it happened," she said, possibly hinting at what her next move will be.

"Right now, I just want the people of Bay St. Louis to feel that I did them justice."

If you go

Kathleen Koch will appear at 7 p.m. Thursday at Barnes and Noble Booksellers in Long Gate Shopping Center, 4300 Montgomery Road in Ellicott City, for a book discussion and signing.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the population of Bay St. Louis. The Sun regrets the error.

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