People in Miss. prep for Isaac, remember Katrina

Published 12:03 am Tuesday, August 28, 2012

LONG BEACH(AP) — Brenda Johns and her neighbor, Willie Shook, took time Monday to pray that Tropical Storm Isaac won’t deal the devastating blow that Hurricane Katrina did. Then they got busy boarding up their homes.

The women are two of only three people who built back on their street in the quiet coastal town of Long Beach after Katrina wiped their neighborhood away.

Wednesday is the seven-year anniversary of Katrina, which killed hundreds and caused widespread destruction in Mississippi and Louisiana. One of the only things Shook recovered was a dress, which she found still on a hanger in a tree near her destroyed house.

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“Katrina changed a lot of people, for good or bad,” said Shook, a 66-year-old retired assistant principal. “It changed me for the better. It showed me that we don’t really own anything. God gives it to us, and he can take it away. I’m at peace.”

Johns has seen her share of struggles, too. Her marriage began to crumble after Katrina, and her ex-husband’s reluctance to return to the Mississippi Gulf Coast may have had something to do with that, though they are still friends.

Johns, a fiery red-headed 66-year-old country gospel music singer and songwriter, penned a song about Katrina: “Hurricane Katrina will always be known; she took a lot of lives and she took a lot of homes; But Katrina can’t stop us from building back again; all we need is Jesus, our family and our friends.”

Forecasters predict Isaac could come ashore as a Category 1 hurricane as soon as Tuesday, and isn’t expected to be as bad as Katrina, but officials say coastal residents shouldn’t let their guard down.

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant held a news conference in Gulfport on Monday and urged people in low-lying areas along the Gulf Coast to evacuate for Isaac, which is expected to bring heavy rain and high winds to the state, even if the center of the storm pushes ashore in Louisiana.

Some people were listening to that advice. Many homes were boarded up on the Mississippi coast, and harbors that are usually filled with boats were nearly empty.

Two of Mississippi’s three coastal counties, Hancock and Jackson, ordered mandatory evacuations in low-lying areas. It was not immediately clear how many people were covered by the order in Hancock County. The Jackson County evacuation affects about 50,000 people, more than one-third of the county’s residents.

The third coastal county, Harrison, had a voluntary evacuation that affected about 60,000 people.

Lines formed at gas stations, and some stations had bags covering their pumps to indicate the pumps were empty.

Bryant said 1,500 National Guard soldiers and airmen are on standby to respond, and at least 40 state troopers could be brought in to help the 80 already stationed in the southern counties.

He said urged people near the coastline or rivers to leave. The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said shelters started opening Monday in Hancock and Jackson counties and about 50 miles inland in Forrest County.

“This is a huge storm,” MEMA director Robert Latham said. “Yesterday afternoon, it was estimated to be 800 miles wide. That’s huge.”

Bryant said Isaac’s approach near the Katrina anniversary “adds to the anxiety.”

“It is reliving one of the most challenging and difficult times in Mississippi’s history. We just hope it’s not to that level,” Bryant said.

Bryant said he was talking to President Barack Obama on Monday about federal aid that might be available. Bryant also said he was talking to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal about whether to start contraflow on Interstates 55 and 59.

At Long Beach Harbor on Monday, Vincent Williams, 23, a construction worker from Gulfport, fished with his two brothers-in-law. All three men have vivid memories of Katrina’s destruction. Williams said he has four children and would like to get them off the coast but money is tight.

“If things get too bad, we’ll leave, but right now, financially, it’s hard,” Williams said. “Not everybody can just up and leave. I can either pay my bills next month or evacuate. Which one are you going to do?”

The harbor was nearly empty of boats except for a few that were disabled. David Falks, the assistant harbormaster, said harbor officials told everyone to move out their boats so the storm won’t break them loose and wash them ashore.

“If those boats get cut loose, who knows where they would go?” he said.

In D’Iberville, Cheryl Miceli, 47, and her daughter Kristen Ishee, 26, had just finished a shopping trip to Walmart on Monday and were packing the back of their car with extra water, bread, cold cuts, batteries, paper towels and toilet paper.

For both women, memories of Katrina were vivid. Miceli, a former nursing home administrator, had to stay at the nursing home and leave her family. Her daughter’s home was destroyed and they lost everything.

They remembered they couldn’t get in touch for three days after Katrina. This time, they’re staying together.

“That’s one thing we did vow after Katrina,” Miceli said. “After three days of not being able to find your kid, it was like, ‘Nope, if another storm comes,’ we said right then. ‘We will be together.”’