Hurricane Katrina: One year later

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Selma Times-Journal

Claiming more than 1,836 lives and costing $81.2 billion dollars, Katrina is recorded as being one of the deadliest and costliest hurricanes in the history of the United States.


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Katrina left devastation all along her path, scarring the land and lives she touched.

“I will never be the same,” said Mary Johnson.

Johnson, who was living in Gautier, Miss. at the time, said Katrina drastically changed her life and the lives of her mother and three little girls.

“We’d never been through a hurricane before,” said Johnson.

“We didn’t know whether to leave or not.

Some people were saying leave, some were saying stay.”

Johnson said she and her family sat through four hours of high winds and heavy rain.

Johnson and her family stayed in their two-story, three-bedroom, two-bath home until the storm subsided.

Johnson and her family got in their vehicle and drove around the neighborhood to assess the damages. They found homes engulfed in water, trees through houses, and there was no gas or electricity.

“Seeing the damage wind could do was just amazing,” said Johnson.

According to Johnson, her family was living in a swampy area on hillside property, so their house sustained water damage, but was not flooded, but because of all of the water in the area, and poor drainage, the septic system backed up in to their home.

Johnson’s mother, suffering from several ailments, was taking several medications and needed to be able to get to them.

Two of Johnson’s three daughters, now six, five and three years old, suffered from severe asthma and the middle child and the middle child was on breathing treatments which required electricity.

Johnson did not want to uproot her family, but did not have a choice.

The day after Katrina, they packed what they could and left Mississippi.

Having family and friends in the area, Johnson was able to find shelter in Selma, where her children were born.

The family had to split up in order for everyone to have shelter.

The family was able to get help from the Red Cross, United Way, Westwood Church of God, the Salvation Army, and other kind people in the area.

Johnson spoke highly of the Selma Mall for having a Christmas party for Katrina evacuees, giving the kids vouchers to spend with the mall merchants.

“That was a huge act of kindness,” she said.

Johnson said she was able to get her kids into Edgewood Elementary School – so they could have some sense of normalcy – within a week or so of their arrival.

She attributes that to the efforts of the school’s principal, vice principal and teachers.

“When something like that happens to you, you lose all perspective,” said Johnson.

“All you see is what needs to be done.

I thought, how can I keep my kids lives as normal as possible.”

Johnson says she knows that her family came out far better than many others hit by Katrina.

Though smaller than her Mississippi home, her family is now all together under one roof, thanks to her landlord who let the family live there for the first three months rent-free. Johnson is grateful her kids have a backyard to play in.

And though she brings home less pay, Johnson has found employment.

I don’t like to compare my loss to anyone else,” she said.

“I was merely inconvenienced.”

But Johnson does admit that the experience has changed her family physically and psychologically. She says they’ve all gained weight and seem to be sicker.

“The children are having severe behavior problems,” said Johnson.

She also stated that her mother seems to be suffering from depression and Johnson herself suffers from panic attacks.

“When the wind blows, the kids ask ‘is a hurricane coming,'” she said.

Johnson says she is in counseling twice a month and her children are about to start, but her mother is from the “old school” and doesn’t believe in one telling their problems to other people.

Johnson says she wishes things could be the way they used to be and that she could move back to Mississippi, but says she won’t because she fears another hurricane and vows never again to live on the coast.

Johnson was hesitant to share her story because of the fact that her family was not as bad off as many other families, but simply wanted to give credit to all of the people and organizations that have aided her family and so many others.