Robert Latham spent Saturday, Aug. 27, 2005, riding along U.S. 90 from Jackson County to Hancock County along Mississippi's Gulf Coast, marveling at the number of people grilling, swimming and playing volleyball on the beach. They seemed oblivious to the monster storm that churned in the Gulf of Mexico, headed their way.
Latham, the director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, and other emergency officials monitored the hurricane advisories and knew Mississippi likely would take a big hit. What they didn't know was how much of the coast would be wiped away in an eight-hour span.
"I will never forget coming along 90 on Saturday, and it was almost as if it were just another holiday weekend," he said. "People were on the beach, and I remember seeing parties and bonfires and I thought this thing was setting up to be another Camille."
Katrina wasn't Camille, the legendary Category 5 hurricane that devastated the Gulf Coast in 1969. It was worse. The winds were a strong Category 3, but the storm surge topped 30 feet in some places, crushing tens of thousands of houses, churches and businesses and covering many more with water.
In all, Katrina killed 1,833 people in five states, including 168 in the three Mississippi coastal counties and 231 statewide. It's considered one of the worst natural disasters ever to hit the United States. While most of the nation's attention in the aftermath of the storm focused on New Orleans - whose levees collapsed after Katrina passed, drowning the city and unleashing death and devastation - Mississippi took most of the hurricane's fury, with entire towns reduced to little more than piles of rubble.