One of the neat things that happened after Katrina was Al Sturgeon's daily e-mail hurricane update from Ocean Springs (subscribe here
). I always felt that I was right here with them in their journey. It was great to keep up with what was happening there. Al requested that his readers write their hurricane story for his list. They have all been special, but the one I want to share with you really resonated with me. I hope it is a blessing to you. Thanks to Robin Hayes for permission to share.
Hello. My name is Robin Hayes. My husband, Todd, and our four children make up one of the three remaining displaced families in the Ocean Springs congregation. I have been reading the testimonies Al has been sending out, and I have been so touched by them that Icouldn't even delete them from my inbox. I'm saving them all, though I haven't yet decided the reason. Alia Martin sent a very nice testimonial that pretty well sums up the sentiments of the affected families in Ocean Springs. However, I thought I'd give you our story too.
Growing up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, my husband and I rode out every major hurricane since Hurricane Frederick in 1979. Though the damage was great with those previous storms, Katrina was something we never dreamed could happen. I have always been fascinated by hurricanes and even came very close to majoring in Meteorology. Given my husband's mirrored fascination, it had never even been a consideration to evacuate from an approaching storm...until this one.
I had been following the progress of Katrina all week. On Saturday, August 27th, I checked the news update just before I went to bed (around midnight) and noticed that the winds had increased considerably. Ididn't sleep well and something told me to get up early and check the news again Sunday morning. To my shock, Katrina's winds were over 170 mph and still heading directly towards the Mississippi Gulf Coast. As images of Camille went through my head, I realized that we really needed to evacuate. Easier said than done. Part of me wanted to stay at the church building, because I knew we could check on our home immediately after the storm. The "mother" part of me didn't want to make a decision I would regret. After much "yo-yo-ing", we finally made the decision tostay. That in itself helped to ease the knots in my stomach that I had all day. We got the remainder of our things together and went to the church around10:00 pm.
Since I brought nearly every photograph I own plus clothing and necessities for six people, our family took up about four pews at the church. I recall telling Al that the silliest thing I brought with me was flotational devices for my children. We laughed -only we didn't know it wasn't funny. Just a couple of miles from the building, people needed those flotational devices. Through nine hours of howling hurricane force winds, I never really knew any real fear. The building lost some of the roof, so there were many leaks, but still my only fear was of my pictures getting wet. You must understand that our church building is made of cinder block with brick over it and steel beams in between. We felt very safe inside and simply had no idea of what was going on all around us.
Around 5:00 pm, the winds let up and some people began to disburse from the church. Todd and I, my niece, and my 3-year-old daughter, Brynlee, left to inspect the damage to our home. We live only a block from the Gulf of Mexico, but our property is between 20 and 25 feet above sea level, and we were not in a flood zone. Neighbors had told us that the Camille surge only came up a good way down the street from our home, so we never thought we would flood. As we drove down Highway 90, we saw typical hurricane destruction that we had seen in previous storms. We saw that part of our 8-year-old's elementary school was destroyed (by a tornado, we later found out). It wasn't until we got closer to our home and the beach that was saw the storm surge's debris line. It was much further inland than our house, and we immediately knew that our home would be flooded.
The outside of our home appeared somewhat undamaged. Things we just knew would be destroyed somehow stood strong. Upon closer inspection, we realized that the East wall of our home had blown in from the bottom into one of our living areas. The water had already receded, but we could see the water line on the house- about three feet up from the ground. Before we entered our home, some neighbors walked by and told us that the homes of many of our neighbors directly on the beach were no longer there.
Upon entering our home, my three-year-old daughter's first words were,"Why would someone do this?" From that point on, she has referred to our home as "the nasty house". I guess I was in a state of shock, because there were no tears shed at that point, just wide-eyed disbelief. The entire contents of the house had been shifted around. Things that were in the back of the house were in the front of the house. Things were turned over, and there was mud and filth everywhere. When we returned to the church, we found that Al & Jody Sturgeon and Samantha & Herman Bosarge had sustained significant flooding to their homes as well. There were some tears shed, but the main thing on our minds was insurance. None of us had flood insurance. Were we covered?
Todd and I decided to spend that night at the church. There was a dusk till dawn curfew in effect, and we knew we couldn't get all our things together in time to make the move to my parents' house. Besides, misery loves company, as the saying goes. No one in my family could quite relate to us like the Sturgeons and the Bosarges. We all stayed atthe church that night, with Al & Jody on pews and airmattresses, and our family on a huge pallette behind the pulpit.
It was difficult to sleep, as one of us would constantly think of something to say. Al and Itried to create some much-needed humor. I told him if they were interested in moving near us, I thought there was some "vacant property". Poor taste, but we all needed a laugh. Shortly after we woke up Tuesday morning, there was a knock on the Fellowship Room door. A team from St. Petersburg, Florida, had driven all night to bring supplies. We were the first church they came upon. We rounded up some able bodies and all helped unload the truck. Little did we know that this would be the scene for many months to come.
Later that day, we returned to our house where it was already beginning to smell badly. We went through every drawer and squeezed water out of all our clothing then laid it in my mother's driveway to dry. Using a generator, we were able to wash a little at a time, and this act salvaged much of our clothing. By the next day, mold had begun appearing on the walls and in the cabinets. Todd and some family members managed to remove the carpet, which helped with the smell.
Our first experience with volunteers came about two weeks after the hurricane. Many of the members had been going through the gutting process, and it was our turn. We had a team of about 15 or so from the Meridian Street Church of Christ, in Okalahoma City, come to our aid. We were amazed by Valerie, a petite woman who could use a saw as well as a man. She and the others, young and old, worked tirelessly all day.I remember Valerie making the comment that she was so impressed with my attitude, that they were tearing everything out of our house, and I was still so positive. That compliment will always stick out in my mind, as I have tried to keep that attitude, though it hasnt been easy.
Many volunteers came in during the next several weeks, but we had a major electrical problem that had to be taken care of before any other work could be done.Thus, we were set behind from the others and little was done in the house for many weeks. Then, two angels came to us by the names of Roy and Larry fromPrescott, Arizona. These two, in their early and mid-seventies, were absolutely incredible. There was no task they could not do, and they worked harder than most men half their age. Over the next month, they had help from others in Arizona as well as from other states, and they managed to completely rewire our house, replace some ceilings, and hang (and partly float) most of the sheet rock in the house. They also took a wall down here, studded in a wall there, and did many other tasks. Larry and Roy were accompanied by their wives, who worked all day at the church building, cooking and organizing. They slept in their travel trailers outside the church building every night. Time ran out, and Larrys hand injury kept them from finishing what they started, but they still accomplished so much. I cried when I told them goodbye at church, because I just didnt feel like I could ever adequately thank them. How do you thank someone who has given so selflessly and been such a true model of Christianity?
Once Roy and Larry left just before Thanksgiving, we had no work done in our home for many weeks. We were somewhat despondent, as other members were moving back into their homes, while the six of us were still living with my parents. However, our spirits were lifted by the overwhelming generosity of several congregations who made it their mission to give our children a memorable Christmas. I'm positive my children have never seen so many Christmas gifts in their lives! Whats more we were even donated a vehicle all the way from Tennessee!
With all the chaos in our lives, I haven't yet sent out thank you notes, but if you are reading this, please know that we will be eternally grateful! We were blessed with other volunteers, some I didn't even get to meet. But in January, a group of guys from Grace Chapel Church of Christ in Atlanta showed up,and they really helped us to get back on track. They did things that no one else had really thought to do (including us), such has renting a POD for us to store the items that we had salvaged in the house. Their timing was great, because what they accomplished set us up perfectly for the next group from East Sunshine Church of Christ in Missouri. About 13 guys worked in our house for 4-1/2 days, and it is unbelievable what they accomplished! In that short time, they had finished floating sheetrock, hung all the doors and trim, hung some windows, and completely painted the entire house inside. Our spirits soared the week they were here, and we consider them true Christian heros!
The following week, we checked into roofing quotes. Literally within minutes of the roofing guys leaving, I received a message from Al saying not to do anything yet about a roof, because some guys were coming from Illinois to do just that! All we had to do was have the supplies at our house, and they would do the labor! This, of course, was invaluable to us. Our thanks to the members of the Philo Road Church of Christ, the Northwest Church of Christ, and the Clear Lake Church of Christ. We are currently living in a good-sized FEMA mobile home, and we have some remaining work on the house;but we wouldn't be half this far if not for our wonderful brothers and sisters around the country coming to our aid. We are so humbled by the generosity you have all extended and we could never be able to properly thank you. Just know that you are in our thoughts and we wish you all the best! God bless all of you, Robin Hayes