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Hancock County Update
The people who are hurt the most by an evacuation are the people who want to stay the most
By Mark Proulx - Special to GCN      Filed 9/4/08

(Editor's Note: Mark Proulx is GCN's Hancock County special correspondent. His family has deep roots in the county though he currently works out of state. We first got to hear from Mark following the earliest days following Hurricane Katrina. His stories can be found in the GCN Archive).

Hasn’t been much write about from my end these past few months except to look at how my people have been dealing with the eventual realization that things have irrevocably changed in Hancock County.  Buildings we grew up in are gone.  Lifetime friends have moved away.  Businesses are no more.

A lot has disappeared or been lost since Hurricane Katrina.  But one thing has been gained…

Fear.

I can hear it in every conversation now.  Fear out of a deep seated respect for the most awesome of powers – the natural disaster.

The pendulum has definitely swung in the opposite direction from the “oh, it’s only a little Category 3…Camille was a lot worse!”  Katrina is our new yardstick and the mere mention strikes fear in the hearts of old and young alike.  Preparations are made like never before.  People no longer take a “not me” attitude when it comes to these magnificent beasts of destruction.

People now have a respect born out of fear.

They begrudgingly leave their possessions, pack up and leave when they know the hurricane is imminent.  But they go.  Ms. Mike Cuevas has been kind enough to send out her impressions of what has been happening in the Bay-Waveland area since Katrina struck, and at GCN, deeply appreciate her opening up her heart and mind to give us a first-hand look at exactly what is happening on the ground in the hardest hit area of the country.

Since sending out my Katrina Anniversary Letter I've had quite an adventure in evacuation from what could have been another major storm to hit a very vulnerable community.  I left town, just as I promised my daughter and said I would.  It was really, really hard.  I felt like I was abandoning my post, although I knew I would be more needed in a post-hurricane situation.

My evacuation place of choice was all over the country with offers from sister city friends and others.  I elected to stay in Jackson, MS, with friends from the coast that re-located after losing everything in Katrina.  My friends B. R. and Beverly were the most wonderful of hosts understanding of my personal dilemma but giving me and Mr. Pickles a safe haven that was still close to home.

This is the first time I've ever left.  It took a lot of preparation to leave trying to figure out all the things I needed to do to secure my home.  That was always Sam's job and I think I covered all the bases he would have in preparation.  Once I got the house as secure as I knew how to do, I turned to the depot.  There wasn't much to do, thankfully.  We had just gotten a new roof installed so I wasn't as worried about leakage, but unplugged everything and anything of value was moved to safe spaces that couldn't flood if the waters rose or the wind blew the roof off.

The best phone call I got was from Charles Beardsly with Loudon Medical Group to see if their space was available in the event we needed a medical clinic following Gustav.  When I got off the phone I just sat down and cried that people still cared enough about us to prepare to come as I prepared to leave.  Charles stayed in touch with me and Dr. Sidney Chevis to be "on go".  Thankfully we just want them to come for a visit and not to work this time!

My friends Liz and Keith from Fort Meyers stayed in touch, preparing to come back and once again help me clean out and repair my home if necessary.  I could never repay them for the sense of security they gave me with their friendship and good will.  I think I've become their "project" and I'm certainly glad to be in their plans.  Now if they could just find me the right new husband I wouldn't be so needy! (Just a joke...)

Port Townsend, WA friends called and emailed with encouragement and prayers.  There was so much support I started to feel really guilty for leaving.

Of course, Bonnie Ringdahl and Di Filhart, once with CityTeam, who have permanently chosen to stay here, went and prayed for me and my house and getting home a day before me let me know that things were well and all I would need was a rake when I got home. 

I'm back at work this morning and everything is all right with the world.  Lots of citizens in our low-lying areas were not as lucky as me, they did have flooding and severe damage.  The MS DOT was clearing the debris from Highway 603, which once again flooded up to I-10 and was closed for a day or so.

Beach Blvd. is damaged in areas that were already weakened by Katrina and had not had permanent repairs made.  This underscored the need to move much faster on the seawall project.  I hope this will give more motivation to the powers that be and there are a lot of powers flexing their muscles if you get my drift!

Once again, volunteers are coming to help with debris removal, tree cutting and power washing.  We are so grateful for any help that continues to come our way.

Each of you take care.  Keep us in your prayers and I will keep in touch to let you know, once again, the recovery of Hancock County.

Mike”

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