And then the levees broke, reporter remembers covering Katrina

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From Gunfire to Rescues, NBC Reporter Recalls Covering Katrina

When thousands of residents began driving away from the Gulf Coast a decade ago as Hurricane Katrina approached, a small handful went rushing in. Most were emergency officials and first responders, but a handful were journalists.

NBC News reporter Carl Quintanilla was one of those few who went driving into Katrina on an empty road, with bumper-to-bumper traffic heading the opposite direction.

SEE MORE: Special coverage on the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina

Instead of turning back, he and his colleagues at NBC and many other news outlets continued into New Orleans.

"I don't think any of us had the feeling 12, 24 hours in that this was going to be anything more than a big category hurricane in a major metropolitan area," Quintanilla said. "We figured we'd do some stories about rebuilding and move along in a few days -- but then the levees changed all that."

Some stayed for days. Other stayed for weeks.

For those journalists, reporting from the ground meant experiencing the storm in a way few others did -- meeting people in sometimes life-threatening situations and facing dangers rarely seen, even in the wake of similar disasters.

Ten years later, Quintanilla reflects on some of the most memorable and heartbreaking moments he experienced on the ground.

PHOTOS: Areas affected by the storm, then and now:

33 PHOTOS
Katrina 10 year: Then and Now comparisons
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And then the levees broke, reporter remembers covering Katrina
This combination of Aug. 30, 2005 and July 29, 2015 photos shows downtown New Orleans flooded by Hurricane Katrina and the same area a decade later. New Orleans has grown since Katrina but is still smaller than before the storm. Estimated population in 2014 was 384,320 compared to 494,294 in 2005. In 2014, the city climbed back into the nation's 50 most populous cities for the first time since Katrina. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
This combination of Aug. 30, 2005 and July 29, 2015 aerial photos shows downtown New Orleans and the Superdome flooded by Hurricane Katrina and the same area a decade later. Katrina's powerful winds and driving rain bore down on Louisiana on Aug. 29, 2005. The storm caused major damage to the Gulf Coast from Texas to central Florida while powering a storm surge that breached the system of levees that were built to protect New Orleans from flooding. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, Gerald Herbert)
This combination of Sept. 3, 2005 and July 29, 2015 aerial photos show the 17th Street Canal flood wall breach and the Lakeview section of New Orleans flooded by Hurricane Katrina and the same area a decade later. Katrina's powerful winds and driving rain bore down on Louisiana on Aug. 29, 2005. The storm caused major damage to the Gulf Coast from Texas to central Florida while powering a storm surge that breached the system of levees that were built to protect New Orleans from flooding. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari, Gerald Herbert)
This combination of Dec. 16, 2005 and July 28, 2015 photos shows debris in front of the Church of God damaged by Hurricane Katrina in the Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood of New Orleans, and a decade later, an empty lot where it once stood. Before Katrina, the Lower Ninth Ward was a working-class and predominantly African-American neighborhood just outside the city's historic center. (AP Photo/Jacqueline Larma, Gerald Herbert)
This combination of Sept. 11, 2005 and July 29, 2015 aerial photos show the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans flooded by Hurricane Katrina and the same area a decade later. Before Katrina, the Lower Ninth Ward was a working-class and predominantly African-American neighborhood just outside the city's historic center. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, Gerald Herbert)
This combination of Sept. 1, 2005 and July 29, 2015 aerial photos show buses parked in a lot flooded by Hurricane Katrina in downtown New Orleans, and the same area a decade later. The storm went down in history as the costliest natural disaster to strike the U.S., with $150 billion in damages to homes and other property. It was also one of the deadliest - nearly 2,000 died. (AP Photo/Phil Coale, Gerald Herbert)
This combination of Sept. 4, 2005 and July 30, 2015 photos show a makeshift tomb at a New Orleans street corner, concealing a body that had been lying on the sidewalk for days in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and the same site a decade later with an artist's memorial to the woman known as Vera. Nearly 2,000 people died because of the storm, mostly in New Orleans, 80 percent of which was flooded for weeks. One million people were displaced. (AP Photo/Dave Martin, Gerald Herbert)
In this combination of Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2005 and Thursday, July 30, 2015 photos, patients and staff of the Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans are evacuated by boat after flood waters surrounded the facility, and a decade later, the renamed Ochsner Baptist Hospital. Nearly 2,000 people died because of the storm, mostly in New Orleans, 80 percent of which was flooded for weeks. One million people were displaced. (AP Photo/Bill Haber, Gerald Herbert)
This combination of Dec. 10, 2005 and July 28, 2015 photos show Valerie Thomas, of New Orleans, left, and her nieces Shante Fletcher, 6, and Sarine Fletcher, 11, right, looking at the destruction of Valerie's brother's home in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans after returning to it for the first time since Hurricane Katrina, and empty lots in the same area a decade later. The storm went down in history as the costliest natural disaster to strike the U.S., with $150 billion in damages to homes and other property. It was also one of the deadliest - nearly 2,000 died. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
This combination of Aug. 30, 2005 and July 29, 2015 aerial photos shows the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans flooded by Hurricane Katrina and the same area a decade later. Before Katrina, the Lower Ninth Ward was a working-class and predominantly African-American neighborhood just outside the city's historic center. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, Gerald Herbert)
This combination of Oct. 10, 2005 and Aug. 4, 2015 photos shows a tangle of fishing boats blocking the lanes of Highway 23 in Empire, La. after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the region, and the same site a decade later. (AP Photo/Don Ryan, Gerald Herbert)
This combination of Sept. 2, 2005 and Aug. 14, 2015 photos shows the playing field of the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans littered with debris after serving as a shelter for victims from Hurricane Katrina, and a decade later, the renamed Mercedes-Benz Superdome. (AP Photo/Bill Haber, Gerald Herbert)
This combination of Sept. 2, 2005 and Friday, Aug. 14, 2015 photos shows the steeple from the Main Street Methodist Church blown down during Hurricane Katrina in Bay St. Louis, Miss., and the restored church a decade later. The storm went down in history as the costliest natural disaster to strike the U.S., with $150 billion in damages to homes and other property. It was also one of the deadliest. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, Gerald Herbert)
This combination of Sept. 2, 2005 and Aug. 14, 2015 photos shows damage to a railroad track in Waveland, Miss., from Hurricane Katrina, and the same site a decade later which is undergoing repairs to drainage pipes underneath the track which were washed out in the historic storm. Katrina went down in history as the costliest natural disaster to strike the U.S., with $150 billion in damages to homes and other property. It was also one of the deadliest. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, Gerald Herbert)
This combination of Sept. 1, 2005 and Aug. 14, 2015 photos shows flood victims in a pickup truck as hundreds of others wait for evacuation at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and the same site a decade later. Nearly 2,000 people died because of the storm, mostly in New Orleans, 80 percent of which was flooded for weeks. One million people were displaced. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, Gerald Herbert)
This combination of Sept. 1, 2005 and July 29, 2015 photos show Harry and Silvia Pulizzano walking across debris from Hurricane Katrina in search of Silvia's brother's home in Waveland, Miss., and the same site a decade later. The storm caused major damage to the Gulf Coast from Texas to central Florida. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, Gerald Herbert)
This combination of Aug, 31, 2005 and July 31, 2015 photos shows a man pushing his bicycle through flood waters near the Superdome in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina left much of the city under water, and a cyclist outside the renamed Mercedes-Benz Superdome a decade later. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, Gerald Herbert)
This combination of Aug. 30, 2005 and Aug. 14, 2015 photos shows Odell Harville walking past debris from Hurricane Katrina on Lameuse St. in Biloxi, Miss., and the same site a decade later. The storm caused major damage to the Gulf Coast from Texas to central Florida. (AP Photo/Jay Reeves, Gerald Herbert)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - MAY 18, 2015: (LEFT PHOTO) A woman walks along the perimeter of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on May 18, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which killed at least 1836 and is considered the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, is August 29. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images) NEW ORLEANS, LA - SEPTEMBER 02, 2005: (RIGHT PHOTO) The body of a female victim of Hurricane Katrina floats in the water surrounding the Superdome September 2, 2005 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Rescue efforts continue as officials in New Orleans and Mississippi fear the death toll from the devasting storm could be in the thousands. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
PORT SULPHUR, LA - MAY 16, 2015: (TOP PHOTO) The cemetery outside Saint Patrick's Church stands in Plaquemines Parish on May 16, 2015 in Port Sulphur, Louisiana. The tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which killed at least 1836 and is considered the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, is August 29. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images) PORT SULPHUR, LA - SEPTEMBER 11, 2005: (BOTTOM PHOTO) Water floods an above-ground cemetery outside Saint Patrick's Church in Plaquemines Parish September 11, 2005 in Port Sulphur, Louisiana. (Photos by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - MAY 12, 2015: (TOP PHOTO) A school bus drops off a student in front of the Claiborne Bridge in the Lower Ninth Ward on May 12, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The neighborhood was devastated by flooding from Hurricane Katrina. The tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which killed at least 1836 and is considered the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, is August 29. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images) NEW ORLEANS, LA - AUGUST 31, 2005: (BOTTOM PHOTO) Two men paddle in high water after Hurricane Katrina devastated the area August 31, 2005 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Devastation is widespread throughout the city with water approximately 12 feet high in some areas. Hundreds are feared dead and thousands were left homeless in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida by the storm. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - MAY 12, 2015: (TOP PHOTO) Houses stand in the 7th ward on May 12, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which killed at least 1836 and is considered the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, is August 29. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images) NEW ORLEANS, LA - SEPTEMBER 06, 2005: (BOTTOM PHOTO) Robert Fontaine walks past a burning house fire in the 7th ward September 6, 2005 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - MAY 15, 2015: (TOP PHOTO) New homes stand in the Lower Ninth Ward on May 15, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which killed at least 1836 and is considered the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, is August 29. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images) NEW ORLEANS, LA - AUGUST 05, 2006: (BOTTOM PHOTO) A lightning bolt strikes above a destroyed church in the Lower Ninth Ward August 5, 2006 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Dozens of churches were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina and have been left abandoned with only one functioning presently in the devastated Lower Ninth Ward. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - MAY 12, 2015: (TOP PHOTO) - Rubble remains at the forner B.W. Cooper housing projects on May 12, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The low-income housing development, which was plagued by crime, has been replaced by two-story, townhouse-style buildings. The city has revamped its major housing projects following Katrina. The tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which killed at least 1,836 people and is considered the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, is August 29. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images) NEW ORLEANS, LA - JUNE 10, 2007: (BOTTOM PHOTO) B.W. Cooper housing project residents practice flips using mattresses June 10, 2007 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The project is lacking in recreational areas. Before Hurricane Katrina, B.W. Cooper held about 1,000 families and was the city's largest housing project, but it is now more than 80 percent empty. Around 10,000 public housing residents in New Orleans have been unable to return to their apartments because of storm damage. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development plans to tear down B.W. Cooper and other major New Orleans housing projects and replace them with mixed income developments. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - MAY 10, 2015: (TOP PHOTO) Parishioners gather during Sunday services in the rebuilt Christian Community Baptist Church in the Lower Ninth Ward on May 10, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which killed at least 1836 and is considered the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, is August 29. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images) NEW ORLEANS, LA - AUGUST 28, 2007: (BOTTOM PHOTO) Duette Sims stands in a doorway of the heavily damaged Christian Community Baptist Church which he is helping to rebuild in the Lower Ninth Ward August 28, 2007 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Sims' own home in the Lower Ninth also heavily damaged in the flooding and he has yet to be able to return home. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - MAY 18, 2015: (TOP PHOTO) A man bikes past the corner of Flood Street and St. Claude Avenue in the Lower Ninth Ward on May 18, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which killed at least 1836 and is considered the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, is August 29. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images) :NEW ORLEANS, LA - AUGUST 31, 2005: (BOTTOM PHOTO) Men ride in a boat in high water past Flood Street after Hurricane Katrina devastated the area August 31, 2005 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Devastation is widespread throughout the city with water approximately 12 feet high in some areas. Hundreds are feared dead and thousands were left homeless in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida by the storm. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - MAY 17, 2015: (TOP PHOTO) A resident stands in the Marrero Commons housing development, at the location where a B.W. Cooper housing project basketball court once stood, on May 17, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The low-income housing development, which was plagued by crime, has been replaced by two-story, townhouse-style buildings. The city has revamped its major housing projects following Katrina. The tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which killed at least 1,836 people and is considered the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, is August 29. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images) NEW ORLEANS, LA - JUNE 07, 2007: (BOTTOM PHOTO) B.W. Cooper housing project residents play basketball in front of storm damaged apartments in the complex June 7, 2007 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Before Hurricane Katrina, B.W. Cooper held about 1,000 families and was the city's largest housing project, but it is now more than 80 percent empty. Around 10,000 public housing residents in New Orleans have been unable to return to their apartments because of storm damage. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development plans to tear down B.W. Cooper and other major New Orleans housing projects and replace them with mixed income developments. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - MAY 16, 2015: (TOP PHOTO) New homes stand along the rebuilt Industrial Canal levee in the Lower Ninth Ward on May 16, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which killed at least 1836 and is considered the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, is August 29. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images) NEW ORLEANS, LA - APRIL 25, 2006: (BOTTOM PHOTO) Workers rebuild the levee which was breached by Hurricane Katrina along the Industrial Canal in the Lower Ninth Ward April 25, 2006 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Repair work on the New Orleans levees is scheduled to be finished in time for the start of hurricane season June 1. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - MAY 16, 2015: (TOP PHOTO) New homes stand in a development built by the Make it Right Foundation for residents whose homes were destroyed in the Lower Ninth Ward on May 16, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images) NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 24, 2006: (BOTTOM PHOTO) A group of Amish student volunteers tour the devastated Ninth Ward February 24, 2006 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photos by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - MAY 16, 2015: (TOP PHOTO)- A woman walks with a dog in the Lower Ninth Ward on May 16, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which killed at least 1,836 people and is considered the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, is August 29. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images) NEW ORLEANS - AUGUST 31, 2005: (BOTTOM PHOTO) A man rides in a canoe in high water after Hurricane Katrina devastated the area August 31, 2005 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Devastation is widespread throughout the city with water approximately 12 feet high in some areas. Hundreds are feared dead and thousands were left homeless in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida by the storm. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
GULFPORT, MS - AUGUST 26: In this composite image, (Top Photo) Vehicles pass the Souvenir City store almost 10 years after it was hit by Hurricane Katrina on August 26, 2015 in Gulfport, Mississippi. (bottom photo) Utility crews drive their trucks as they arrive to help restore power to homes after Hurricane Katrina knocked power out to thousands of homes September 1, 2005 in Gulfport, Mississippi. Local residents who have been devastated by Hurricane Katrina began to receive supplies from relief agencies. The tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which killed at least 1836 and is considered the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, is August 29. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
WAVELAND, MS - AUGUST 26: In this composite image, (Top Photo) Brian Mollere sits with a box holding the remains of his dog Rocky on the porch of the home he rebuilt on the slab of his former home after Hurricane Katrina destroyed the house August 26, 2015 in Waveland, Mississippi. (bottom photo) Brian Mollere holds his dog Rocky as he sits at a table in a makeshift shelter that he erected over the remains of his home that was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina September 3, 2005 in Waveland, Mississippi. His mother, who also tried to ride the storm out in the home, was killed in the home. The tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which killed at least 1836 and is considered the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, is August 29. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
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