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Rising from Ruin is an on-going MSNBC.com special report chronicling two coastal Mississippi towns, Bay St. Louis and Waveland, as they rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.

Map of Southeaster United States

This project is evolving. Our daily dispatches coverage has been retired. Click here to see what happened in the area between mid October and January 1, 2006.

Background on the towns and this project is available under the about tab above.

Click here for bios of the reporters and media producers who have worked on the series.

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I've seen the future of news gathering--and it's not pretty. Actually, it's pretty embarrassing. That's me festooned in probably $15,000 worth of technology. And not a cent spent on style. So help us caption this picture. Take your best shot in the comments.

First, some background: A small team (well, two) from Microsoft accompanied us to Bay St. Louis last week to capture 360-degree video of the devastation. They practically invented the technology. And to our knowledge, this will be the first time it's even been used in news. The resulting movie is something akin to the panoramic photo at the top of this page, only moving video in every direction. For the most part, they strapped the shiny red cylindrical camera to the roof of their rental car and roamed the neighborhoods. But cars can't venture inside obliterated buildings or drive down a beach littered with debris. That's were I, the human tripod (or is it bipod?), came in.

A screen capture of unwrapped 360-degree video shot along the beach in Bay St. Louis, Miss. The horizon bends when the camera person's head isn't level. (Image: Ashley Wells / MSNBC.com)

In case you're interested in this high-tech Halloween costume, here's what you need:

1 skydiving helmet with camera mount on top. Carbon fiber is the hot look this season. And don't forget the chin strap. That's key.

1 Ladybug 'spherical digital video camera' complete with six cameras. Only available in red, like a ladybug. Get it?

2 'storage units' for that camera, each packing four 40GB hard drives. Bonus feature: Their heat output can keep a RV warm all night.

1 backpack to hold said storage units.

2 optical link cables connecting the camera to the storage units. Sexier when taped down the back of the helmet.

1 separate camera to record audio, presumably of your tour guide. Even more fun when a 4-foot wire tethers you to that tour guide.

1 tricked out Acer Ferrari laptop, also in carbon fiber. Hey, it's an accessory. But unlike a purse, it can't be closed, at least not while recording. So sashay while holding it upright and open. Totally completes the look.

I suited up in cyborg gear to shoot a few guided tours in the area, one through the dilapidated, and allegedly haunted, county courthouse; another through the wreckage of the city attorney’s home; and one walking down a beach with the director of the local historical society. No one beat me up or even laughed. When there are boats in trees, this getup doesn't look so strange.


MSNBC.com's Ashley Wells takes a guided tour along the beach with Charles Gray, executive director of Bay St. Louis' historical society. (photo: Rick Welsh / Microsoft MapPoint)

But it was awkward. Clearly, I'm no bio-engineered camera stand. The trick is to walk with your subject while holding your head steady and level. You can't look down, even when you step in sewage runoff. You can't let your subject get more than three feet away, either, because of the microphone cord tether. Like Fletch, I was 6-foot; 6-8 with the helmet and camera. So you also have to duck very gradually under some doorways. Imagine walking like this through your living room after pushing everything you own onto the floor. That's what it's like inside these homes, if a living room exists at all.

If it seems I'm making light of all of this, I'm just trying to own the embarrassment from the goofy getup. The situation itself is very serious. This technology will help us show the unimaginable scope of destruction in ways that other images just can't communicate. That's key to truly understanding this story. With any luck, we'll have these 360-degree video tours up on this site in the next few weeks, so please check back often. Now, about that caption ...

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If the light turns on, run!

Take me to your leader!

Fashion police officer, Joe King, hits the streets looking to arrest poorly dressed citizens in St. Louis.

Caption for above photo: "Scotty? Can you hear me now?"

My first thought for a caption: "Buzz Lightyear goes to college." Great idea for capturing a story!

"Has Hat, Likes to Travel"

Next year McDonalds will introduce a new concept in fast food. This mobile restaurant will walk up to your car, take your order and the produce your meal via the replicator in his backpack.

Russian Space travel has come a long way!!

"AV nerds of the future...with a fancy hat!"

Your boss must love directing you. If he or she ever asks you to try out a shark suit just say no! HA...cool pic.

After hours of shopping for this online I found one with a FREE chin strap. However the drool cup was extra.

The new panorama-cam for the hardwired hero. Comic book companies will be leaving you messages and strangers will want your autograph. A "must have" for the christmas wish list that lends new meaning to the phrase "I've seen it all".

"And they said I couldn't be a Rocket Scientist!"

I think that look went out back with the band DEVO ... "Crack That Whip" "hip it Good!!"

"It wasn't what I had expected, but with my new internet accountability suite installed I bravely marched forth..."

"UNBORROWED VISION" "AND THAT'S ALL I NEED" It's heartwarming to see everyone working together and having a sence of humor." I've wrecked one too many police cars" Three captions

Mississippi Coast on the rebound. TeleTubby 2005 arrives.

"Chick Magnet"

My mom made me wear this.

That is the weridest look I have eversaw. But I think that it will do th ejob. So keep it up.

captain dipwad to the rescue!!!


(remember that skit on SNL many years ago when he had a satellite dish on his head?)

"The first human prototype police vehicle"

"Third Shift Ranger"

"When my wife told me to be home early, I should've listened! Oh-boy is she MAD..."

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