The day of God's wrath
Through the eyes of Julia Ann Kennedy
I am a Katrina survivor and grateful to be,because it might so easily have been otherwise. My sister Sara and I put ourselves on the line when we decided to ride out the storm. The night before, I watched "Sunset Boulevard", because our local weatherman said the storm was heading into Apalachicola! I headed to bed without much concern, but woke at 5:12 AM, when the power went out. Unable to make coffee, I had a tomato juice instead. I decided to dress, just in case. My sister was downstairs in our duplex, and to her, too, it seemed as if it would just be a bad windstorm.
Around 7:00 a.m., we were jolted when the first oak tree fell. It would have landed on our cars, but the day before, we'd moved them a block inland to Howard Avenue to avoid the salt spray that normally comes in from the Gulf during storms. Fifteen minutes later, another 150-year-old oak plummeted into Sara's back door. The wind was coming from the east.
I noticed my neighbor's house on the front beach; water swirling around through the sliding glass doors and rising to the ceiling. Even then, I merely thought they are going to have a big mess to clean up in there. I failed to realize the house was disintegrating. At first, their driveway appeared to be full of debris. However, it was rising water, just across the street from our house.
By this time my sister was out in the yard, pointing at the rising water. White caps were rushing up Suter Street. Somehow, I still thought we'd ride it out and told her to come upstairs. Sara got her medicines (she had a kidney transplant) and came upstairs; then she remembered her bird, "Tweedy". Even though water was rushing into the house, she insisted on saving Tweedy. She'd just returned with him and sat down when the entire house shifted. Wide-eyed with alarm, Sara said, " We have to get out of here." But I resisted. "Look at the debris piled up around our house", I said, "Debris can kill you."
I had moved some of my paintings upstairs and was reluctant to abandon them. So we compromised and went to sit on the third step of our foyer. This time, as we sat down, the house suddenly shifted again. And began to float.
Staying was no longer an option. But rushing water made it impossible to open the door. Breaking a window was pointless because debris had already blocked all the windows. As dangerous as this situation has become in a matter of minutes, the debris seemed more dangerous. As a last resort, I tried the door once more and finally got it open. Sara pushed open the screen door and, as I stared at the debris, Sara grabbed and pulled me out. The porch had washed away, so we jumped down into chest-deep water.
With nowhere to go, we climbed on to a pile of debris. I found myself walking on a plank while my sister was crawling beside me. I said "Sara this has to be somebody's house." Then we jumped off the debris pile into deep water again. I felt faint as we approached a downed power line. It barred the only path out and Sara insisted that I swim under it. Was it live? Knowing the power had gone out at 5:12 a.m., I took the chance and plunged underneath the water. For some reason, I opened my eyes, came up and felt revived.
We continued swimming, holding on to one another and finally waded up to Howard Avenue. We sighted our neighbor, Spiro, who knows that Sara and I try to walk two miles a day. Spiro and his wife took us in. Later, he said he couldn't understand why we would walk on a day like this! Until he realized, we were escaping. We spent the next ten hours with our neighbors, caught in the relentless storm.
We paced and tried calling family members. After about five hours, I reached my brother, Pat, at my mother's phone, next door to his house. I said "Pat have you talked to Momma?" (She was at another brother's house.) "Tell her we are ok, but our house is gone. We had to swim out and crawl over debris," He knew what we'd experienced. He and his family had to swim out of their house with the help of another brother, Dennis, who'd been house-sitting my Mother's home. Her house was the only habitable home left on Biloxi's Back Bay.
Pat said his house had been completely gutted. And I found myself thinking about my life's work, my drawings and paintings. I couldn't wait to retrieve them. But at that moment, my most beloved works were already gone, washed out to sea. A few were saved, thanks to my brother, Bobby, but even those are Katrina-damaged. I am grateful for what was left behind. And I am grateful for our lives, Sara's and mine.
We went back the next morning with my brother Pat and our good neighbor, Spiro. Pat, who had lost his house as well, was going to try and retrieve an heirloom (a $10,000 watch) from what was left of my house.
The house had collapsed onto the first floor and the second floor was resting at a 45 degree angle on a pile of debris. Pat crawled through a broken out window and called out "someone's already been here." I stood outside the window and said, no, open the drawer and dig. He pulled out some things and I said "Junk, keep digging." He then pulled out a box and opened it. I said That's it." My mother's heirloom watch was saved!
Then Spiro climbed through the window and yelled, "Which door is Tweedy behind?" We yelled, "The bathroom door," (which was an uphill climb from the house being at a 45 degree angle). Spiro laid on my broken closet doors and used them for a make- shift ladder. He forced the door open and Sara yelled "Is Tweedy dead?" Spiro yelled back, " Tweedy is alive!"
Tweedy had ridden out Katrina. Today she sits in her cage in a FEMA trailer and sings, much to our delight.
March 7, 2007
A date that is as important as August 29th, 2005. Sara Sidaway has finally moved back to her home on Suter Place in Biloxi, Mississippi.
During this time Sara has lived with her brother, a sister, her daughter and in a FEMA trailer.
“After nineteen months it feels so good to be home” said Sara.