Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Northeast Mississippi is connected to hurricane-ravaged areas by the ties of family and friendship. If you have stories about family or friends affected by Hurricane Katrina, call the Daily Journal at 678-1596 or e-mail to patsy.brumfield@djournal.com.

While South Mississippi bore the brunt of Hurricane Katrina's wrath, Northeast Mississippians had their own anxieties about friends and loved ones who were in the storm's path. In addition, evacuees had their own fears of the unknown as they awaited word about family and friends back home.

Here are some of their stories:

- Jeff and Christi Houin of Tupelo are hosting 13 Houin family members from New Orleans. Neighbors are bringing by food and offering extra beds. Christi's stepfather stayed at their house in New Orleans. "They said he's OK, but he can't get out to check anything" because of the martial law.

Jeff's brother, who is staying in Tupelo, lives in St. Bernard Parish. His house is gone either from a tornado or rooftop water. "One way or another his house is gone."

None of the others has been able to find out the fate of their homes.

They're listening to New Orleans radio, which is advising that residents won't be able to go back before Monday at the earliest. Then they are advised to bring their own food and water, take what they can salvage and leave again. "They are saying that it will be at least a month."

- Vickie Thomas and Lacreshia Horn, whose husbands play for the New Orleans Saints, returned to their native Northeast Mississippi to escape the hurricane. Thomas is from Calhoun City, Horn from Chesterville community.

"We had to fly out of Baton Rouge because the New Orleans airport had begun to shut down," Thomas said. "We left New Orleans Saturday around 2, but with all the traffic leaving the city we missed our flight. We stayed in Baton Rouge and caught a flight to Memphis Sunday morning about 6, and we arrived around 8."

Their husbands, cornerback Fred Thomas (a Bruce native) and wide receiver Joe Horn, flew with the Saints Sunday afternoon to San Jose, Calif., in preparation for their final preseason game Thursday at Oakland. Horn played football at Itawamba Community College. Thomas played at Ole Miss.

Vickie said she spoke with Fred after arriving in Calhoun City. "His main concern was us being safe. Once he knew we had gotten home, he was content was that," she said. "The players are going through their routine: going to meetings, practices, everything."

Thomas has received an update on her house in New Orleans from a friend who braved the storm.

"We have a white fence that goes around the back yard. It was blown completely away," she said. "We don't have any water damage or structure damage to the house so far, but the problem we're having in New Orleans are the levees. The levees are breaking. We're actually experiencing more damage now than we did from the hurricane because of the levees."

- Bill Parsons, the Ole Miss engineering grad who is the Space Shuttle program manager, said he talked with his family in Pike County, and while they are pretty shook up from Katrina's wrath, they're OK.

Parsons, who was director of the Stennis Space Center before getting the shuttle post, has lots of friends and colleagues on the Gulf Coast and e-mailed the Daily Journal on Tuesday: "Just talked to someone that made it from Stennis to Diamondhead.His house had 9 feet of water in it and was pretty much demolished.He said the Yacht Club and houses around the Club were pretty much gone. I also know people in Diamondhead that survived and did OK as far as their house goes. It really says if water got to you then it was real, real bad vs. just real bad for wind. The Gulf Coast will change again, forever."

- Finley Ward, a 20-year-old Ole Miss student from Gulfport, said he spent most of Tuesday morning trying to contact friends and family still on the coast.

"My brother's driving down the beach right now. He said our boat is downtown," Ward said, shaking his head sadly.

Another friend from his neighborhood said one house had been swept away, leaving only the stilts it used to rest upon, Ward added.

"Just about all of the houses on the beach are gone," Ward said.

- Sean O'Neal, Finley Ward's Ole Miss roommate also from Gulfport, said his family got lucky.
"I just talked to my parents, and they said they feel like the last people left," he said Tuesday morning.

O'Neal's Gulfport home sustained only minor damage, but he quickly added that is not the case for the majority of Gulfport.

- David and Marie Steele, who used to own the Outback in Tupelo, weathered the storm safely with their family in D'Iberville, north of Ocean Springs, according to family friend Rachel Becker. Their home flooded and the new Outback they are opening in D'Iberville reportedly lost its roof.

- Conner Bills, an Ole Miss student native to Hattiesburg, said his house sustained damage from hurricane-force winds.

Bills said his parents were concerned both about their property in Hattiesburg and a hunting camp on the Gulf Coast.

"The roof stands 22 feet high, and they are saying there was as much as 30 feet of water, so it will probably not be there," he said.

- Chris Buse of Saltillo is in seminary at Covington, La. His family has not been able to contact him or anyone else at the seminary. Mom Lisa Buse: "I haven't heard anything. I've just been watching the Weather Channel. ... I guess no news is good news." You can hear the strain in her voice.

- Lori Eschete of Saltillo's parents live in Crown Point, a bayou community south of New Orleans. Her grandfather was in a nursing home and had to be moved to Baton Rouge, she said. "My parents can't get in touch with anybody," she said. "Nobody stayed back, and we're on pins and needles wondering what's left."

- Beth Bunch, a former Daily Journal employee who is the editor of two newspapers in Hattiesburg, said she lost power about 8:30 a.m. Monday and phone service shortly afterward. She weathered the storm at a friend's house in Hattiesburg. When she got back to her own home, it was still standing, but her yard was a wreck.

"I worked two years on that garden, and now it's gone," Bunch said. "I could have just cried, but I can plant stuff again. I was lucky. Most people lost trees and part of their houses. Our whole neighborhood looks like somebody dropped a bomb on it."

Bunch said she's been told it may be a month or more before power and water is restored to the area.

"Nothing is open here," she said. "No convenience stores, no fast food, no gas stations. They're letting a few people in at a time to Lowe's and Sam's to get necessary supplies. They've closed (U.S. Highway) 98, but there are no stoplights working."

With no restaurants and grocery stores operating, Bunch and her friends have taken to eating out of three big freezers.

"We're grilling as much meat as we can until the freezers thaw," she said. "After that, we'll start in on the canned goods."

- The family of Brandon Sherman, an Ole Miss grad student, lives in Gulfport. His mother, dad and baby sister evacuated to Florida and will stay there until they know more about coming home.

- Carlie Kollath, a 2005 Ole Miss grad living in New York City, hasn't been able to find her parents, who stayed in their Gulfport home.

test for the Daily Journal blog.