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A Katrina Survivor Describes the Hurricane’s Toll
 

Newly married Amanda Tiblier and her husband raced back to their home in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, four miles from Biloxi, hoping to beat Hurricane Katrina###s advance upon the coast. At one point they flew over the monstrous storm as they headed toward evacuation and a last-ditch effort to protect their home and possessions.

Today Tiblier hardly recognizes her neighborhood, town, and old haunts like Biloxi###s beachfront with its antebellum mansions and other historical sites, many of them washed away. The 24-year-old who has lived all her life around the Biloxi area has gone through hurricanes in the past: "Elena was pretty bad in ###85—we evacuated. And Georges in ###98 left trees down and cars flooded when I was a teenager. But I have never seen anything like this."

Several weeks after the hurricane, Tiblier talked about its debilitating long-term effects: she lost her job because the casino where she worked will not rebuild for nine months or more; the house she and her husband rent is not livable although the flooding stopped two houses from her doorstep; and her community has been permanently altered.  "When we were able to drive back to our home, six days after the hurricane, I just began crying as we drove through our neighborhood," she said. "People###s belongings are still lying out all over the lawns. But we were so fortunate—the water had stopped two houses from our house. Our roof had caved in some areas and we had other damage of course."
   
One of the hardest emotional issues was the inability to communicate with loved ones. Tiblier###s parents were in Montana and she was not able to talk to them until 10 days after the hurricane. While waiting to be able to return to her own neighborhood, she assisted her father-in-law###s parents, residents of D###Iberville, who basically had lost everything. For days she laid out wet pictures for them and other items in hopes of helping to preserve some memories.

"Just driving around the area you can###t believe what you see," she says. "My in-laws### parents### house was a brick house, and it is basically gone. I have seen houses that are upside-down. Yesterday when I went to Biloxi I saw one casino halfway underwater and another barge just sitting on the side of the road.

"You have to understand that a 38-foot tidal wave came across that four-lane highway along the beach. Bridges are gone. One casino is sitting on top of the Holiday Inn. On the left hand side of the road where there was beach and the water there is just dirt and debris in the water, and on the right, where there used to be the historical antebellum mansions, it###s just leveled, with people###s personal  belongings spread everywhere. Beauvoir, Thomas Jefferson###s home, is gutted, with his historical library and books. The beach will be unusable for a long, long time."

Tiblier described the pain of seeing the uprooted lives in neighborhoods where mattresses, pictures, entertainment centers, and every other imaginable item are piled outside of ruined homes. Far worse are the homes where the number of people found dead inside is painted on the front.

"We###ll make it through," she says, "but to lose so much of here is so sad. People are still camping alongside the road—people in tents with children. We hear of all the money being donated and sent down here, but sometimes it is hard to understand how it is being directed. People have lost their jobs, can###t pay bills, are being denied benefits, and don###t know what to do."

 

Fortunately Tiblier###s husband###s job is secure. But like many others, they face a great deal of uncertainty as they try to plan how they will copy without her salary, with having to move from their rental home, and with all the other costs—both financial and emotional—of having their lives uprooted by Hurricane Katrina. Like most other survivors of the horrific storm, however, they are grateful to be alive and to have one another. And they are summoning the strength to begin to rebuild their communities.