Robin Roberts Answers Questions About Her Trip to the Gulf Coast

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Sept. 1, 2005 — -- Robin Roberts answers a selection of your questions about her trip to Mississippi to report on the local devastation from Hurricane Katrina. The "Good Morning America" anchor first offers her gratitude for the support she has received in both e-mails and message board posts this week:

My family and friends and loved ones on the Gulf Coast cannot put into words the outpouring of love, support, prayers -- it's making a tremendous difference.

The thing that was said to me over and over again was "please don't forget us," and to be able to share with them some of the Web postings and the requests from the public, from the viewers -- I wish that you could see the reaction of the people when I tell them that. As a journalist, I'm supposed to be good with my words. I'm at a loss for words. It's indescribable. But thank you from the bottom of my heart, thank you, thank you, thank you.

Diane asks: With all the coverage in the news, why can't we get the journalists to drop bags of food and water from their helicopters? Do you feel a responsibility to help the people you are reporting on?

Robin Roberts: We had a satellite truck that had a satellite phone, it was like a phone booth. People were lining up to call loved ones. It was like gold. They felt how I felt traveling all day Monday not knowing what I would find.

We brought cases of water and cereal bars and nonperishables that we gave to everyone. It's share and share alike down there. I gave something to my family and it was like they had a little command post in their neighborhood. And it's not just us, I've seen other journalists as well, anything that we have we're giving. When we left there, anything that we had left over of course we did not bring with us.

I have heard, and even Diane Sawyer this morning asked the president, why can't we just drop supplies? But it is so waterlogged right now, the response was, it is just not feasible. It's more of a danger right now. FEMA is assuring us that we will see a noticeable difference on the ground with aid. Having been there -- it's gotta get there now.

Camille in NYC writes: Please let all the people down there know that everyone is thinking about them. Without electricity, they must be wondering if the rest of the country has even heard about what has happened. How are they getting information?

Roberts: I want people to know that what I was telling my mother and other Coast residents, that people are e-mailing, people are calling. People are asking, that people want to help -- you should have seen their eyes. They're isolated down there, they don't a have a clue what's going on. It was so hard for me to leave yesterday, and they were just saying, "Please, please make sure people don't go forgetting about us." And I was like, "Help is on the way."

Kristi writes: What should those of us that live in the upper U.S. do to help the cause? I'm 14 and I want to help.

Roberts: Right now they need money, any amount, anything you can do in your respective community to raise funds and send it. Make sure that when it's being sent to organizations that it's earmarked for Hurricane Katrina relief.

Right now money is needed, more so than goods and clothing. That's later, but right now any type of funds that can be raised and don't worry about the amount.

Patti asks: Did your family lose their home? How is your mom doing?

Roberts: Our home in Biloxi was damaged quite a bit but it can be repaired. Our family home and my true hometown of Pass Christian, Miss., we still can't get there and the word is it's destroyed completely and it's our family home of 30 years. So it's been hard.

And my sister Dorothy in Long Beach, her home, too, is severely damaged. And my sister in New Orleans, needless to say can't get to it, but is not expecting to have a home. Hers is completely under water. But the family is healthy. We're just so grateful and we realize that we have much more than a host of people. And so we're grateful for that.

Connie asks: Where did you and your crew stay?

Roberts: I spent as much time as I could with my mother between being there on assignment and working. I was torn because I wanted to help. But we stayed in our van … we would just try and catch a catnap and someone would have to stay awake to stand guard, but we lived out of our minivan.

Louise asks: Robin, how on Earth are those victims going to be able to pick up the pieces of what once was their lives? What can we do to help?

Roberts: I've had friends who have different skills, and they are going down to the Coast instead of going on vacation … believe me, they'll put you to work down there, there is no shortage of need for able-bodied individuals to help out there.

I don't want our viewers to feel frustrated about not being able to do something right now, this is going to take a long time.

Patsy writes: What was going through your mind on Tuesday, I watched you and saw a different person, a person not a newscaster … I can only imagine how hard it was to sit there in front of camera.

Roberts: Literally, when I broadcast live Tuesday morning, I had seen my mother and my family less than hour before I was on the air. I thought I was OK and I was just looking all around me, I was just a few blocks from my mom's house and I couldn't recognize my own neighborhood anymore. I was overwhelmed. I was overwhelmed, but at the moment I was so relieved … There's no worse feeling than driving through the night through such devastation, not knowing.

And I didn't want to leave my family, my mother was the one who was shoving me out the door, saying, "Be our voice of the Coast," so it was by far the most difficult time professionally and personally for me.

Mary asks: We too have relatives in Gulfport and have spent many good times there. How do I find what roads are open to Gulfport from Houston? How can we reach them? We want to take our relatives supplies that they need.

Roberts: I've been besieged, and I get it, because I was the same way, I wanted to send someone out to my mom's neighborhood. … This one woman e-mailed about North Biloxi and I was able to get her the info that I had. It's very difficult right now because neighborhoods are all blending together, that's why they're trying to get the telecommunications back up as quickly as possible. …

I am told that a lot of people who initially said they weren't going to evacuate, chances are they did because I know that my family said there were bullhorns and people coming saying to evacuate. People may have evacuated that you think didn't.

As far as the property damage: be prepared, just be prepared.

Mike in Orlando asks: How far inland did the wall of water go and did the Keesler Air Force Base take any damage? I will try numerous ways to help those who suffered, by donating money, clothes, whatever I can. Peace to you.

Roberts: There was water damage but as far as I know for everything I've been told Keesler is intact. They're using the airfield there for cargo planes, so I know the airfield is operational … We weathered Hurricane Camille from Keesler.

Kenneth asks: Would you say this story (because it was so close to home) actually affected you more deeply than the tsunami that devastated other countries?

Roberts: There's no exaggeration to say this is our tsunami. It's the same in the sense that people are walking around dazed. … In the local paper they're listing names, "Have you seen so and so?" Just like in 9/11 when you saw missing person signs posted. The common thread has been loved ones trying to reach out to loved ones.

It's hard for me to be objective, the Coast is my home. It has a totally different face to it for me. I'm getting some calls today from my high school friends, I scream when I hear their voices because I think I'm never going to hear it again. That's the difference, this is personal. But the devastation is frightening how equal it is. It's unrecognizable. My home, my hometown is absolutely unrecognizable because of the destruction.

Karin asks: It must have been so difficult to leave your mom behind. Without phones and other communication devices, how will you keep in touch with her?

Roberts: I can text message, thank goodness for nieces who are tech-savvy. Communications are very limited, too, so you can get some text messages, and they're just passing the word. They share everything down there, information -- they're just hungry for anything and everything.

Please know, I begged my mother to come back with me. She insisted that I leave because I can do more good on the outside because when I'm there I'm like them because I have no resources. My mother said she would come with me if the plane was big enough to fit the whole Mississippi Gulf Coast. She didn't feel it was right for her to leave without them. I love her for it, but let's just say we had tense conversations.

But in sincerity I'm worried for my mother who's 81 and others who are older because the weather is extremely hot and humid. There's no running water, just the basic necessities. And so many people die in the aftermath of a storm like this because of the conditions. So that's why we have to get aid to them quickly, and that's the importance of the rescue effort.

Larry writes: I am sympathetic toward your family and pray for their safety but your opinion to the understanding of the looting is greatly needed.

Roberts: Again that's the importance of getting aid on the ground, it will prevent people. If you have a baby, if you have children, people who are just taking the basics -- bread, water -- it's very hard to fault them. Those who are just being brazen about department stores and items that they can't even use right now, we have little sympathy for them and they are preventing people from being rescued. But it is a small percentage.

Unfortunately, once again it's something that gets a lot of attention, but there are far more people doing the right thing and helping each other than the looters. It's just unfortunate that they are the ones that are receiving so much of the attention. But it's hard too and I even saw some police officers -- who, when they saw that it was bread people were taking, were like, "I don't see anything." People are just trying to survive.

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