Ten years after Katrina: 'You just move forward'

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line associate editor | Friday, August 28, 2015

Editor’s note: Yesterday, our media blog featured how Katrina “shattered” the lives of one member and his family, a story by Field Editor Suzanne Stempinski and published in the March/April 2006 issue. Here’s the 10-year follow-up by Associate Editor Greg Grisolano.

The harrowing night Jay Hosty and his family spent seeking shelter in a church attic while the floodwaters from Hurricane Katrina inched farther and farther up the stairs “feels like a lifetime ago.”

“We’ve kind of put it behind us and just, you know, moved forward,” he said.

A trucker and OOIDA life member now living in Diamondhead, Miss., Hosty credits the passage of time with helping his family to move forward, and with healing most of the wounds suffered in the aftermath.

“Each day goes by and it’s just a distant memory, more or less,” he said. “It’s in the past.”

Hosty and his wife, Katt, and their four adopted children lived in Lakeshore in Hancock County, near where Katrina made its final landfall on Aug. 28, 2005. That area was the site of some of the most intense damage inflicted by the storm. In Mississippi alone, 238 people died, and another 67 were reported missing. The total number of casualties is believed to be between 1,200 and more than 1,800 in at least seven states. Pounding rains, devastating winds and surging floodwaters wreaked roughly $105 billion in damages to the Gulf Coast.

 

Katt and Jay Hosty have been married 33 years

The Hostys rode the storm out in the attic of their church in nearby Bay St. Louis with nearly two dozen others. They spent almost a week scavenging in their flood-devastated community before they were able to evacuate to Jay’s parents in Louisiana. From there, they bounced around between family members and even a Christian retreat in Panama City, Fla., before they received the FEMA camper that would be their temporary home for the better part of a year.

“We did a lot of bouncing around in the beginning, wherever we could,” Jay said before noting it was right around the one-year mark before the family could purchase another home.

“We consider ourselves very blessed because within a year, we purchased a new home,” he said. “We felt very blessed just to move through it. It was tough in the beginning but, as time went by, you just move forward.”

Katt Hosty said moving forward wasn’t easy in the beginning. In addition to losing her home, her parents in nearby Pearlington were displaced by the hurricane. Both her mother and father would pass away within that first year.

“You really didn’t feel at home for a while because things continued to happen,” she said. “Things didn’t feel right because things continued to happen after the storm. Things continued to happen for maybe a year and a half.”

The devastation to their home was as total as the devastation felt by the surrounding community: Their house, their vehicles, Jay’s Western Star truck, their family pictures, family heirlooms – even their horses – were washed away.

When the family finally received their FEMA trailer, Katt said Jay insisted on parking it at their church – Central Bible Church in Bay St. Louis – where they’d sought refuge in the attic as the storm surge pushed floodwaters to within three steps of where they huddled together with a group of survivors, singing hymns. Katt said her husband wanted the trailer at the church because “parking it at the house would’ve been too depressing.”

“The memories were hard,” she said. “Seeing where we ran to. They still had blankets and different stuff up there (in the attic). Just remembering that’s where we were when all that happened.”

Christmas in the cramped FEMA cottage could have been sparsely decorated, but the Hostys made the best of it. Katt says a fellow OOIDA then-Board Member Sue Lynch gave them a small 3-foot Christmas tree and it “fit right in.”

“I still put up that 3-foot tree every year,” she said.

The driving winds and floodwaters in the initial storm surge ripped the camper top off the back of the Hostys’ pickup truck, scattering precious family photos, and overturning a jewelry box filled with heirlooms. Katt said for months after the storm, friends and neighbors would find damaged and destroyed pictures of their family.

“I was a picture fanatic (before the storm),” she said. “I’m still taking lots of pictures. I started all over again, only now it’s with the grandkids. We’re making memories now and taking more pictures because I know how important they are to look back at.”

‘It basically washed everything down to the slabs’

Steve Boudreaux and other staffers at the Mississippi Trucking Association said they felt the initial impact of Katrina’s landfall all the way up to the organization’s office in the state capitol of Jackson. It would be more than a week before power was restored in the city. In rural areas, it took even longer.

“We’re 150 miles from the Gulf coast roughly, and we had a Cat-1 hurricane for six hours here,” said Boudreaux, the MTA’s safety compliance and membership director. “Katrina basically tore up two-thirds of our state.”

The initial impact of the storm left the area south of Jackson in “pretty bad shape” and from Hattiesburg, about 70 miles north of Gulfport in south-central Mississippi, down to the coast was “completely devastated.”

“From what we understand, anywhere from a 28-foot to a 35-foot wall of water hit the beach down there, and didn’t stop for two miles,” he said. “And it basically washed everything down to the slabs.”

Boudreaux said once the power was restored, the MTA mobilized to help with the relief effort.

“I had (used) 3,900 minutes on my cell phone in September of 2005,” he said. “That doesn’t count the four lines we had at the office.”

Once he and the rest of the staffers at the MTA were able to get back into the office, they started calling in favors. The way he remembers it, the minute the storm left, it turned into a “typical Mississippi summer” – with temperatures touching triple digits and 60 percent humidity.

“Nobody had power. Nobody had any necessities,” he said.

The state coordinated deliveries out of Jackson, but Boudreaux said he also started making deliveries on his own time to areas of need. He said he particularly focused on Waveland, a town in Hancock County along the Gulf Coast.

 

After losing the family photos in Katrina, the Hostys take plenty of pictures, like this one of their new home.

“Hancock County was the center of the storm,” he said. “New Orleans got the backflow, and the water pushed in from Lake Pontchartrain. We got the direct hit. It basically eliminated Waveland, Long Beach and Pearlington, Miss. It wiped them off the map.”

Boudreaux said the initial stages of the relief effort were about “finding connections” with officials in affected communities, which was challenging because of the damage to the infrastructure.

Jay Hosty said he can remember going to the Walmart parking lot to get water and other supplies off the backs of tractor-trailers.

“For a couple of weeks or more, that was what we depended on,” he said.

Lessons learned

The Hostys’ daughter, Selena – now 21 – was just 11 when the storm hit. While she said the night of the storm was “the scariest night of my life,” she said ultimately it drew her family closer together.

“Being there that night, and how scary it was, we could’ve lost one another really easy and really fast,” she said. “Just knowing that we still have each other, and that God protected us through that storm, it’s brought us closer together than we’ve ever been.”

The Hostys still own the property where their old house was, but it’s just vacant land. Jay says there’s no particular reason he’s held onto it, and figures he’ll sell it someday.

“It’s not sentimental or anything like that,” he said. “I’m not going to move back there.”

The reason they didn’t rebuild at that particular location is because “once was enough.”

“I didn’t want to go through that again, and seeing that (the devastation) happened there, I said that’s it, I’m not going to rebuild right there,” he said. “I just didn’t want to ever have to go through that again.”

Their new house is on the north side of Interstate 10, which sits at a higher elevation and didn’t suffer as badly from flooding. But even that hasn’t made Katt or her children any less gun-shy when hurricanes are coming.

“I don’t look at storms the same way I used to,” she said. “I’m real scared of them now. … And I promise you all, I’ll never stay again. That was a hard thing to go through.”

In addition to the pictures, personal effects and other heirlooms lost in the storm, Katt said the family also lost its horses, something she said she doesn’t think she’ll ever be able to replace.

“Since the storm we adopted another child and she’s 10. She’s heard the stories of us having horses, and she really wants one… but after losing that, it’s hard to get back into,” she said. “I just don’t want to get attached again, and then another storm comes and you have nowhere to move them to. So I lost that aspect of enjoying something I really used to enjoy.”

Their town still isn’t the same either.

“We had a movie theater, which is still not up and running,” Katt said. “They say it’s going to open next month, so that’s a big deal for our town. It’s been 10 years since the storm came and we haven’t had a movie theater here. So it’s coming back, but it’s real slow.”

Boudreaux says most of the affected areas in Mississippi at least have “come back quite a bit,” with the ports trying to get set up for deep-water shipping to accommodate larger vessels coming through the Panama Canal. He said there are even plans to build a direct road for trucks to hit I-10 and avoid traffic downtown.

“Long Beach and Waveland are still kind of hurting even after 10 years,” he said. “But when you’re completely wiped off the face of the Earth, it pretty much takes a little time to deal with.”

Originally from south Louisiana, Boudreaux said he was “just happy to help” in the aftermath of one of the most destructive natural disasters ever witnessed.

“We were happy to help as an industry and an association,” he said. “So many of my members, they gave us a truck or a trailer, or they gave us this or that. … We just came together. Instead of being strangers, we all became neighbors, the whole state. And it’s held together.”

Like the Hostys, Boudreaux admits that there is more wariness among residents when hurricane season begins.

“It taught us a lesson. This time of the year, we keep our eyes open,” he said. “We’re a lot better off than we were. And if it happens again, if it happens next door, we’ll be ready. She punched us in the face, and we picked ourselves up and moved on.”

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