Everyone has a story down here on the Coast. August 29, 2005 changed our lives.
I bought a vacuum cleaner for the church today. At the Oreck store, I asked how the owner was doing, "How's it going?" He began to tell his story.
On Sunday, the 28th, he evacuated in his RV with his three dogs, photo albums, his father's childhood rocking chair and a few other essentials like food and water. He waited out the storm in Theodore, Alabama (near Mobile).
Before he left home, he saw his neighbor who he'd known for 17 years. His neighbor planned to stay through the storm with his wife and two young children. He asked Oreck man if it really made sense to leave when their neighborhood hadn't been damaged during Camille (1969 landmark hurricane here). Oreck replied that if it were only the neighbor and his wife, maybe they could risk it but making two children remain when the predictions were grim for a Cat 5 storm seemed irresponsible. The neighbor puffed over this.
Five days later, when Oreck secured gas finally in Mobile, Alabama to return to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, he found his home destroyed. A wall of water, 12 feet high, swept through his home leaving him with a tilted roof, a few walls and several feet of muck.
His neighbor ran to greet him and swooped him up in a hug. "You were right!", he said. "The water rose so fast that we had to break out the kitchen window and pull the children under water, then bring them up to the roof to escape the house. Then, the water began covering the roof so we held onto trees. After a few hours, the debris in the water kept hitting us and we got separated! All four of us went in different directions! I thought my family drowned! It was hours before we could find each other...one of the children floated on a piece of debris way over there!"
Standing in the parking lot of Oreck's store, I began to cry.
It kills me to hear stories like this. I hear at least one storm story everyday. Somedays, I hear as many as five. People are brave. They stand up tall and say with conviction "at least we are alive" or "we got a FEMA trailer" or "we are better off than most."
Oreck man began to cry, too. His neighbor's child doesn't want to go to sleep because the nightmares terrify her. The neighbor is guilt-ridden because he put his family through this.
Oreck man's home won't be liveable until March or so. He's tired of living in the RV with his three dogs.
May I quote my Aunt Betty here? "Jesus, Mary and Joseph!" or as I say, "Lord, Have mercy!"