Jim Mashek column: Awful flashbacks of Katrina all over Bowling Green


I always told myself, “Never again.”

I’ve spent most of my adult life — or what passes for such — in three states: Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Always within an hour’s drive or so from the Gulf of Mexico, or, from 1994 until 2012, the Mississippi Sound.

The gateway to the Gulf of Mexico, pretty at night, and certainly unique during the day.

Hurricane season was the worst. Experienced them at every stop from my second newspaper job until my departure from the Mississippi Gulf Coast in the summer of 2012.

Guess I got lucky in Conroe, Texas (2012-22016), Owensboro (2016-2019), and now Bowl–

Not so fast.

Bowling Green took the deadly force of fire-and-brimstone tornadoes early Saturday morning, and officials across the county — all through Western Kentucky, and in particular, Mayfield, Kentucky, an off-the-beaten-path town of about 10,000 souls, near the Tennessee state line and the Mississippi River — were left to assess the damage.

Getting back to my domicile — I was out of town on Friday night — wasn’t an easy thing to do.

The police-manned detours were everywhere. In my case, eastbound on Russellville Road at the intersection with a fortune teller/notary/we’ll loan you money (yeah, that kinda place) sitting caddy corner from a shuttered barber college and across from a Hardee’s.

(Insert own joke here.)

I hit Campbell Lane, and tried to follow the late, great Hank Stram’s advice and “matriculate down the field (and the crib)” via Emmett Avenue.

Nothing doing.

“You might want to go around the back way,” the weary-but-helpful Bowling Green police officer told me, “and come in on Stonehenge.”

Pulled into the parking lot and walked into apartment where the temperature was showing at 54 degrees.

It would get colder.

Piper, my year-old-playful-perpetual puppy, followed me inside. I’d listened to the radio coverage coming back into town, and managed to take a quick nap before the curious side of me won out.

I took the Gray Ghost out, first to find a flashlight, and then to get some food at a taqueria a mile or so away that happened to be open.

I monitored Facebook and Twitter and kept up with news accounts of the damage done by the powerful tornadoes, which is prone to them but seldom this late in the calendar year.

Gov. Bashear warned that the fatalities “would be in the dozens” in Mayfield alone, and Bowling Green officials would soon confirm similar concerns.

I exchanged text messages with my neighbor Juaun and he told me I might want to try checking in at the Holiday Inn Express, that they were opening their doors to those in need.

I decided to spend the night at home, after driving around and taking a handful of photos of the destruction.

The 31W Bypass, as Chris Allen had said on the radio — for awhile, ESPN Radio 102.7 was their only active transmitter — was little more than a pile of rubble.

It’s closed at the roundabout, and somewhere else, I’m guessing, on the other side of Scottsville Road.

And it’s closed for good reason.

It’s closed because it’s pretty much gone.

The Bypass was once Bowling Green’s “main drag,” and it certainly was in my college days in the ’70s.

There’s still plenty of thriving businesses along the Bypass, including my landlord’s office, a bunch of second-hand stores, including St. Vincent de Paul, where I like to donate, and some apartment buildings, mom-and-pop restaurants (yes, while Murray’s is no longer with us, there are/were still a few) and obligatory liquor stores.

This is Kentucky, after all.

It was pitch black on the Bypass, and I got to within a half block of it and checked out a few blocks from Greenwood Alley.

It’s devastating.

It’s tragic, as the banner headline said this morning in the Bowling Green Daily News.

And it’s a reality we’re gonna have to live with, because while we grieve for those who died, life goes on.

And yes, it brought Katrina flashbacks, from 2005, when I became a metro columnist in addition to my sports duties and the Knight-Ridder Corporation — it is, sadly, no longer with us, a victim of the newspaper industry’s slow, grueling death — brought in an army of reporters, photogs and editors.

It brought back memories of the piles of rubble, the police, fire and first responders in full force around the clock.

It’s awful.

It’s sobering.

It happened.

As much as Bowling Green has changed, and it’s gotten considerably bigger in the last two or three decades, we’re about to experience a new reality.

Civil defense officials said the overtime from that game — Mississippi State would win in overtime — probably saved countless lives, because the building could empty really fast after four basketball games in one day.

We’re looking at years of perpetual change, of buildings that will be torn down, and homes that will have to be rebuilt.

We’ll soon have plenty of FEMA personnel on hand, pretty much right away, and there are other federal agencies, like the Small Business Administration, that can fuel the city’s recovery.

There are so many unknowns.

I was lucky. Juaun said he came out of his apartment to catch a glance of the tornado, perhaps three blocks away, moving northeast toward Russellville Road. Juaun said you could see the debris flying across the horizon.

I was in the Georgia Dome for the powerful tornado in Atlanta during the SEC men’s basketball tournament in 2008, I believe.

Western Kentucky basketball coach Rick Stansbury was there that night, as the coach at Mississippi State, and the Bulldogs were tangling with Alabama when the massive storm brought the tournament to a halt.

During the final moments of regulation.

It happened so fast.

The building started to shake — yes, shake — and it sounded like a freight train from hell was coming our way.

And the stadium sustained millions of dollars worth of damage, even if at first glance that didn’t seem to be the case. (I was in a rental car that was fine after the storms.) I was staying at a hotel in the southern part of the city, right off the interstate. And late at night, I’m guessing 2 or 3 in the morning, mi amigo Gregg Ellis of the Mississippi State media relations office sent a mass text telling us the tournament would resume at Georgia Tech, which happened to be pretty much closed due to spring break.

Katrina, however, brings nightmares like no other.

And I wasn’t even there when it happened. I almost always evacuated for anything Category 3 or higher.

I woke up that Sunday morning in a little house, in Pass Christian, north of the railroad tracks, on Rosehart Avenue. (One of my neighbors had a pot-bellied pig, homeslice.) Turned on the Weather Channel and saw that the massive Hurricane Katrina had strengthened to a Category 5, with landfall expected well within 24 hours.

Experts later said it was actually a Category 3 by the time it came ashore on the Louisiana coastline, before moving past Pearlington, Mississippi, Bay St. Louis and Pass Christian, Mississippi, and all across coastal Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties.

I didn’t come back for about 3 days. Some of my newspaper colleagues, like mi amigo Don Hammack, stayed behind for the storm, at Civil Defense. They were there for the storm of the century, where Hurricane Camille, which flattened the Coast in August, 1969, had become a cottage industry in a locale driven by casino gambling, tourism and various attractions along U.S. 90.

Right on the water.

U.S. 90 looked like a war zone, and before long, there were plenty of National Guardsmen and other military personnel on hand.

From what I could see, that’s where we are with the 31W Bypass. Or where we’ll be. Sooner rather than later.

It gives you pause. It really does.

You almost feel guilty that you survived, when so many did not. That’s a sobering reality if there ever was one.

I haven’t seen the television news yet, but my Sunday edition of the Bowling Green Daily News was waiting outside my door when I got back from a food run.

Piper is absolutely worn out. Sleeping in a cold apartment, with 2 or 3 candles and a flashlight providing the only light, had to be confusing for a sweet little dog.

I was hopeful BGMU could get the power back on last night, but it didn’t happen until mid-morning, sometime after 10 a.m.

The WBKO-Fox crawl — my Washington Football Team is playing host to those dastardly Dallas Cowboys — says blood donations are “urgently needed” and the the tornado left no less than 12 deaths, with all sorts of other information related to the tornado.

It’s almost a dream, really, but it’s closer to a nightmare.

Lives lost, forever altered. In this case, in a virtual instant.

Hurricane Katrina took its sweet time crossing Louisiana and Mississippi before it finally lost some strength.

I’m thankful for the police, for the fire department and first responders, and I’ll want to do my part. We always had blood drives at the newspaper in Biloxi-Gulfport, and that was the least I could do.

(And thank you, BGMU, for getting the power back on so quickly.)

I’m optimistic Bowling Green, Mayfield and all the other affected cities and towns in Kentucky and throughout the region will be able to recover. Rebuild, at least to some extent.


This is all very familiar.

It breaks your heart every single time.

Every. Single. Time.