|From the New York Daily News - http://www.nydailynews.com
It's our turn to help Biloxi
By Michael Daly
Wednesday, August 31st, 2005
With news of the awesome destruction down South comes a memory from the terrible days after 9/11, when a big banner went
up in Times Square.
"Biloxi loves NYC!" the banner announced.
The banner was sent by Biloxi High School to Stephen Pitalo, a graduate of the Class of 1986 who had moved from that
Mississippi city to New York and became a TV and radio producer. He also received boxes of relief supplies collected
by students at the Biloxi grammar school he attended, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Along with hanging the banner, Pitalo personally delivered the boxes to the recovery effort at what had been the World
Trade Center. The gloves, socks, goggles and first-aid cream no doubt came in handy, but what mattered most was the goodwill
from Biloxi and so many other places.
It felt as if goodness itself had risen in response to the absolute evil that struck in downtown Manhattan. The country
and indeed the world seemed to unite behind us.
These four years later, we had particular cause to remember the message of love from Biloxi, as reports of the havoc
wreaked by Hurricane Katrina flashed on the news zipper directly above where the banner had hung in Times Square.
Pitalo's grandmother as well as several aunts and uncles still live in Biloxi, but he reports that they all had evacuated
before the storm hit. He noted that his family had lived there for generations and had seen dozens of hurricanes.
"They knew that the smart thing to do is get out," Pitalo said yesterday.
The 36-year-old had himself lived through seven hurricanes before moving North. He had found this to be good training
for that September day in 2001 when he glanced up at the Jumbotron in Times Square on the way to work and saw one of
the twin towers ablaze. The second plane struck as he arrived at his office on Broadway and he got right on the phone
to assure his family in Biloxi that he was all right.
"That's what you do in a hurricane, too," Pitalo said yesterday. "There's something about having gone
through a lot of hurricanes that makes you snap into emergency mode and know the things you need to do."
Until this week, the worst hurricane to strike Biloxi in modern times was Camille in 1969.
"It had such an overwhelming effect on the coast," Pitalo said. "Until very recently people always referred
to it as The Hurricane."
Now there is Katrina.
"There's a whole generation I'm sure that is going to refer to this as The Hurricane," he said.
He noted that his grandmother's house is less than a block from the beach.
"It pains me to think what she's going to come home to," he said.
But he understood that too many families had not been as fortunate as his own.
"Apparently, they're still finding bodies," he said.
Even so, Pitalo emphasized that he was not equating the storm with the attack on the World Trade Center. The news footage
from down South shows mile after mile after mile of devastation, but this was only property. The direst predictions do
not come anywhere near the death toll at the twin towers.
The numbers meant little when you watched the TV news footage of a man in Biloxi describing how his wife was swept away
from his grip when the water tore into his house. She had yet to be found.
The footage prompted hundreds of calls to the network offering sympathy and support from all over, a welling of the same
goodness that blessed us here after 9/11. Pitalo noted yesterday that both the Red Cross and the Salvation Army are accepting
donations to assist with the relief effort in the hurricane zone.
"I hope people will remember there's folks down there who really need their help," Pitalo said.
Meanwhile, let us say this:
"NYC Loves Biloxi!"
And Gulfport and New Orleans and all those other stricken places that opened their hearts to us in our darkest time.
©Copyright The New York Daily News 2005