America has played the blame game, politicized, prayed, wept, given and mourned those who lost their lives, family members, homes, businesses and any semblance of a life before the storm.
While most of America has watched, Josh Beacham, a junior in life-long education, was in Biloxi, Miss. working to get the city back in order.
Josh, who works for Bitting Electric and Bitting Alternative Power, was part of a crew that traveled to Mississippi the day after the hurricane made landfall to restore power through generators to Red Cross sites, municipal buildings, schools and sewage pump stations. Even though they were helping, profit was also a motivation for Josh who made the sacrifice of dropping his classes to go.
Josh describes his trip as "a once in a lifetime opportunity that I just had to take." He went on to say that he didn't regret leaving school and everything behind because "N.C. State will always be there and I couldn't pass up this chance."
The crew caught up with the storm in northern Alabama where it was still strong and arrived in Mobile late Monday. The crew didn't reach Biloxi, one of the most devastated areas, until early Tuesday morning.
"Going down the highway you couldn't see any billboards. They were all ripped down or folded over," Josh said. "When we got to the city it didn't look that bad at first. There were some roofs ripped off and shingles everywhere, but it wasn't 'till I got closer to the coast that I saw how horrible it truly was -- nothing like I've ever seen before."
For most Americans, the aftermath left by Hurricane Katrina was two-dimensional -- a sad story on a television screen that can hardly represent the reality of the situation in these states.
Josh vividly described the smells as if they haven't yet left him.
"There was one time that it smelled so bad that I got sick," he said. "It smelled like a four-year-old port-a-potty and gasoline."
What Josh said he recalls most of all isn't what he went through, but what he witnessed the residents of those areas living with.
"All the stories I heard were about how people survived and what they lost. There are only a handful of people who got lucky," Josh said. "I talked to people who couldn't get in touch with their family members. Everyone was in a state of panic and shock. They were so on edge and didn't know which way to turn."
Josh's own feelings mirrored those of the residents as well.
"In the first 12 hours I was in a state of shock and then I became numb to it all. After awhile I had to tell myself, 'Everything is destroyed. Accept it and do your job.'"
Countless people stayed in the areas even after they saw what was to come. Some chose to stay with their homes and the city they loved, while others had no choice but to stay. Josh's crew, although they were not there to hand out supplies, gave what they could even if it was something as a small a ride or a bottle of water.
"We would go into neighborhoods and people would be waving and screaming 'Thank You,' and it made me feel good," he said.
Josh also said he came across dangerous individuals who saw the hurricane as an opportunity to loot and commit crimes.
"[Criminals] were shooting at aid workers. Looting was everywhere and we felt like a moving target. We were driving around with a tank of diesel on the back and a bunch of generators. It was like driving around with a bull's eye on your back," he said.
The rise in crime forced Josh and his crew to arm themselves in case of attack. Police issued each truck a can of crowd control mace to be used if they were rushed. According to Josh, each manager of a crew was lent a handgun by police and crews were allowed to buy other arms. Since some of the first places to be looted after the hurricane were gun stores and pawn shops, Josh's crew was given a letter by police permitting local gun dealers to sell them shotguns.
"It was kind of like war. One person would drive and the other would sit shotgun with a shotgun," he said.
The crews also were responsible for guarding their camps where they kept generators, fuel and supplies. Josh said he regularly pulled security duty where he drove with a gun to protect the generators.
At one point during the trip Josh traveled to New Orleans where the crime was considerably worse. Upon entering the city, which was under military guard, his crew was briefed on what to do if they were attacked.
"If we felt threatened, we could run people over. It was basically an unspoken agreement that we were allowed to do whatever necessary to protect ourselves, because [the National Guard] knew we had guns and were fine with that," he said.
Josh said he is thankful he was never put into the situation where he would have to harm someone even though other members of his company were fired upon while pulled over on the side of the road trying to call their families. He admitted that he was scared and thought about the possibility that he could die.
"It was scary, especially when considering the fact that I'm 22 years old and called up my parents to tell them I wanted a Viking funeral. It was impossible at that point not to think about it. It was a chance," Josh said.
He said he does sympathize with people in these areas and tries to rationalize what they were doing.
"These people were out of electricity for a week and a half, no water and were starving, and then they saw this truck with supplies on it that they needed and they knew they could get away with it," he said.
Josh's crew worked side by side with federal and state officials in Biloxi toward the end of the first week. "We went into Biloxi on Tuesday and we didn't see FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) until Thursday or Friday," Josh said.
Josh's crew installed generators to the sewage pump stations, Red Cross sites and municipal buildings without ever talking to FEMA. He described the reaction by FEMA as a "bureaucratic mess-up" and said "things were getting changed left and right. No one could answer for anything."
Josh said several times his crew had to instruct FEMA where Red Cross sites were located.
"It was so disorganized. You could literally watch [FEMA] mentally drop the ball left and right. We took the initiative and got our generators hooked up and were like 'Listen, you got a ton of MRE's and stuff like that. Drop them at these locations. These sites are established.' So I guess in a way we weren't telling them what to do, but helping them out, because they had no idea. They were so back and forth," Josh said.
He said he saw no problem with a private company needing to take the initiative after a disaster of this magnitude.
"Somebody had to step up and take the initiative and it could have been anyone," he said.
Josh's crew did step up to the plate and worked with barely any rest to get the city of Biloxi on its feet again, although he admits some parts were enjoyable.
"We worked on a barter system a lot of time, because you couldn't use credit cards. We hooked up generators at a hotel and were allowed to take showers and a nap. We also hooked a generator to a bar and they opened up for everyone," Josh said.
He compared his role aiding Mississippi to an adventure.
"You were given coordinates and you had to find your way on a GPS system. We went and saw messed up stuff and it was an adrenaline high all the time. I didn't know what was going to happen next so I had to keep myself pumped," Josh said.
Rights given to him by the local governments added to the adventure. In a memo from Mayor Connie Moran of Ocean Springs, Miss., Josh and his crew were given full rights to take whatever supplies they needed from anywhere throughout the city. Josh's crew used this right to take propane tanks from local stores to install generators at sites like the Red Cross camps.
Josh did witness the things that people across the country are watching so intently on television. He said he saw the dead bodies, but said the saddest thing was seeing "old women go through the houses they lived in their whole lives and where they raised generations of children trying to pick up the pieces."
He warned of misconceptions he has seen in the media since returning to Raleigh.
"New Orleans is bad, but [the media] is just focusing on one area when the whole gulf area was hit," Josh said. "Everybody sees dead bodies and thinks they are floating up and down the river, but that's not true. The body count is actually much lower than they were projecting."
Through it all, Josh said he would go again tomorrow if another hurricane were to cause such damage and will take with him the memories of helping rebuild a city who called out for help.
"It's impossible to go through that and not feel sympathy for these people. I really couldn't put myself in their shoes because I didn't lose everything," he said. "We were down there to do generator work and we just tried to help when we could."