The day that changed my life forever

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, August 26, 2015

It’s not a topic I enjoy talking about.
But this year, it can’t be escaped. However, after the 10-year mark has passed, I won’t forget about it, but will try and push it to the back of my mind, only to be thought of when I need an extra boost of courage.
In August 2005, I was faced with one of the biggest challenges of my life.
That summer began filled with hope. I was the proud owner of a bachelor’s degree from the University of Mississippi and was eagerly anticipating securing my first full-time job. At the time, I was looking for something in the legal field as I still planned to pursue law school. I still hadn’t found anything by the time the end of August came.
Then she made her appearance on our radar.
My dad is a veteran with regard to hurricanes. He remembers Hurricane Camille and the many others he rode out with his family.
I can only vividly remember two or three hurricanes I rode out. We never evacuated Hancock County; we just stayed at a family member’s house.
On Aug. 27, we were preparing our home in Bay St. Louis for the impending storm. Windows were boarded, plastic was placed over valuables and we packed pictures, some clothing and other supplies in our cars.
The next day, as we were still preparing, the bayou began rising and we observed a lone boat making it’s way into our backyard. For me, that’s when things got serious and I began to worry.
My dad urged my mom and I to evacuate. He was staying with his parents and one of his brothers who were going to ride out the storm in Waveland.
My sister was safe at the Mississippi University for Women in Columbus.
At that point, traffic was becoming a problem as many realized the magnitude of the storm’s reach.
However, my mom and I refused to leave my dad’s side. It may sound crazy to some, but I couldn’t in good conscience leave him alone with my grandparents.
So, I bid farewell to my childhood home and prayed I would see it again. We drove around Bay St. Louis and Waveland and watched the choppy waves on the beach. It was the last time I saw the “Bay” as I knew and loved it.
We stayed in an apartment complex behind what used to be 84 Lumber off of Nicholson Avenue in Waveland. It was me, my parents, my grandparents, my uncle and his eight-months-pregnant girlfriend.
Another aunt and her family stayed across the way and the majority of my dad’s brothers were at their respective homes.
I went to bed on Aug. 28 hoping to sleep through the storm. That was not to be.
I woke up the next morning and naively asked if it had passed. To my horror, it had not.
Then we lost cell phone signal, our only link to my sister and family in Kentucky.
I can’t remember the time of day when we first saw the water enter the parking lot. In all honestly, my sense of time was lost at that point.
My dad told me to move my car up on the sidewalk to prevent the water from ruining it. When I ran outside, the water was up to my ankle and the wind was blowing fiercely. I moved my car and almost couldn’t get out because the wind was blowing too hard.
When I finally got out, the water almost reached my knees, which I remember thinking was crazy because we were about a mile from the beach. I also realized moving my car was fruitless, and we all lost our vehicles, including my mom’s truck, which was filled with family pictures.
I safely made it back to the confines of the apartment and we secured my grandparents in the stairway, because the roof of the apartment was starting to leak as well.
We opened the back door in hopes of pushing the water out as it made its way up to my waist.
The water stayed about 15 minutes, I believe, and lifted the couches and the refrigerator. I was definitely scared and remember saying to myself, “I don’t want to die.” For the rest of the day, we listened to the storm outside and watched from the back door as the winds took their toll.
As she moved on and darkness moved in, there was an eerie silence. I cried that night, thinking of the friends I knew that had stayed and I wondered if they were alive.
The next morning, we ventured out. My mom and I walked down Nicholson Avenue and saw so many people looking around in shock and heartbreak. As we neared the beach, we saw many homes flattened or just wiped off the map.
I knew then that my life and the life of my fellow residents had just changed dramatically.
When someone arrived back in town with transportation, we took a trip to Cedar Point in Bay St. Louis and stood at the edge of what used to be the Bay Bridge, which had been reduced to nothing but pilings.
I remember walking to what used to be Kmart. The doors were open and we were allowed to get cleaning supplies. During our walk, we saw an entire house that had floated to the middle of the road.
My sister thought us for dead, for she had not heard from us in about three days. Hearing her voice and the voices of others far away in Kentucky was one of the best things I have ever heard.
My childhood home was ravaged. The water reached the roof of our home, which sat on stilts, and the back and front steps were gone.
It was still standing, but it had to be demolished. On Mother’s Day 2006, we watched as they tore it down.
When I think about the suffering my fellow “Bayrats” endured I know I was one of the lucky ones. The lives of my friends and family had been spared.
However, so many lost their lives that fateful day when Hurricane Katrina roared ashore with little regard of the destruction and heartache she caused.
It hasn’t been an easy 10 years. College doesn’t prepare you for one of the greatest natural disasters. My life has taken me down many different paths and I have often wondered for what purpose my life was spared.
But, there has also been good. I met my husband when we were living with my uncle after the storm. He first saw me outside washing mud off of my mom’s collection of dvds in the hot sun. He told me that was the moment he knew I was to be his wife.
I will always be forever grateful to the National Guard who passed out water and supplies throughout town and to the countless other Americans who volunteered their time and gave donations to my hometown.
The residents of Bay St. Louis and Waveland, in my opinion, are amazing. They rolled up their sleeves and helped their neighbors.
My “Bay” still has a long way to go. Ten years may have passed, but progress takes time.
It will never look the same, nor will I.
There was a lot of good that came out of this storm and I remember that fact when I look back on the 10 years since, even when the nightmares awaken me at night.
I believe whatever strength I have gained can be linked to that fateful day in 2005. It wasn’t about the material possessions I lost, it’s about what I didn’t lose.
My family is still with me and I with them, I met my husband because of this tragedy and this Aug. 29, I will have a new memory to mark the day, my nephew’s birthday party. I will be in New York celebrating his life.

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