August 29, 2005 was a day that changed many lives. It’s Monday morning and hurricane Katrina makes landfall in South Mississippi. The noise from the howling wind and the crack of falling trees send chills through my family as we sit in my brother-in-law Vince’s home waiting for the storm to pass. We are all scared, but safe.
Katrina passes, leaving a wake of destruction we can only dream about. Vince’s home is damaged but repairable and we are thankful that we were there. When the roads were cleared enough to pass we loaded up our canoe and ventured out to check on our own house. We reached the start of our street, which as we had predicted was still flooded over, put in our canoe and paddled the mile back to where we hoped our house was still standing. From the edge of our property we could see a glimmer of hope. Through the mess and entanglement of fallen trees we could see the roof of our house still standing. “Things are going to be OK”, I thought to myself. I was wrong.
The family pulled together and got set up to survive. We had a generator for power, a swimming pool full of water to flush toilets, and a lake to cool off in. In a few days our government would show up to help with water, ice and maybe some food until things got back to normal. We were prepared, or so we thought. Help didn’t come as soon as everyone thought. We were running out of fuel for the generator, drinking water and essentials. Sadie and I decided to load up all of the children into our van, hook up our trailer, and go get the things we needed elsewhere.
We left and headed for Arkansas, hoping that we’d find what we needed there. The drive was hellish. All of the destruction we passed was heart breaking. Gas was difficult to find, long lines at every station and exit along the way painted a grim picture. I worried that we would end up stuck on the side of the road in the heat with a vehicle full of kids. We were lucky and found a station near Vicksburg to fill up at. With a tank full of fuel and cold drinks for everyone we headed out and continued on to Arkansas.
Once we got to Arkansas it was tough just to find a place to stay. All hotels were booked up with people that had evacuated, mostly from the New Orleans area. We finally found a hotel with a vacancy in El Dorado, Arkansas. We got everyone settled into the room and I started looking for supplies. Finding supplies to bring back was like finding that tickle me elmo doll on Christmas Eve, it just wasn’t there. We were fortunate to have a church group adopt the motel we were at. They provided lunch everyday for evacuees. Everyone there wanted to help in any way that they could. I spoke to a person that owned a car wash and he gave me some plastic barrels to carry fuel back with me. We were told where we could get bottled water to return with by another volunteer. Their hearts opened wide for us. We are truly thankful for the people of El Dorado, Arkansas.
We got the things we needed, thanked everyone for the help and hospitality, and started on the trip back to Saucier where the family was waiting. The radio blared stories of increased crime on the highways, people being carjacked and robbed for fuel, we were worried about this trip home. We stayed off of the main highways and slowly made our way back with the food, water and fuel for our family. I had never felt so relieved to be home when we pulled onto the driveway at our temporary home. We had the things we would need to survive until power was restored and things were normal again. We still had no idea of the true destruction of hurricane Katrina.
Days were hot and dry. Stress was out of this world and people started to break down. A glimmer of hope arrived. Word started getting out that Red Cross was feeding people at a local school, National Guard was handing out ice, water and food, and FEMA was taking applications for aid. Some relief had arrived.
I immediately ventured out and applied for assistance with FEMA. We were approved for a travel trailer to be placed on our property to live in. Eventually a second trailer was placed on our property to accommodate the size of our family. So far so good. We settled into the trailers and started on the task of preparing our home to be livable again. Upon first inspection of the house we thought there was only water damage, a few broken windows and a damaged roof with a HUGE hole in it to worry about. All of the contents in the house was wet and in the hot September sun it mildewed fast. There was mold everywhere and a stench that was barely tolerable. We removed everything from the house, carpet, furniture, ruined appliances… everything. We hadn’t noticed the real damage to our house until one morning I was walking through the front door and something wasn’t right. The front door was stuck and I had trouble opening it. Once I did get it open I noticed the walls didn’t look right as I walked through to the living room. I went back to the doorway and looked down the wall. My heart sank instantly as I could plainly see that the wall was falling out of plumb. I checked the wall on the opposite side of the house and saw that same amount of lean that spells trouble. There was more damage than we had expected and it worried me. I got some steel cable and turnbuckles and set out pulling my house back together. Nothing budged, the walls would not move. I tightened the turnbuckles as much as I could in hopes that it would stop any further movement, it didn’t. Every day the walls leaned further out, tightening the cable as they went. The cable eventually failed under the strain. Our house was in real trouble. We were in real trouble.