Katrina evacuees find a home away from home in Morgan County

September 16, 2005|by TRISH RUDDER

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. - Nancy McCurdy, her daughter Molly, 14, and dog Bella, a 3-year-old dachshund, left Slidell, La., on Sunday, Aug. 28, to wait out Hurricane Katrina in a safe place.

They arrived in Morgan County 10 days later with a whale of a story.

McCurdy and Berkeley Springs artist Michael Nathan are close friends and the McCurdys were invited to move in with the Nathans.

The McCurdys heeded the mandatory evacuation put into effect after weather reports of a "strong Category 5" were issued for Hurricane Katrina, she said.


They left the New Orleans suburb of about 40,000 people around noon.

McCurdy said she withdrew all the money in her bank account to cover gas, food and lodging. They packed three days worth of clothing, important papers, memorabilia like family pictures, and any other items that filled up the trunk of her car, McCurdy said. This is what she did in the past.

McCurdy, a native of New Orleans, remembers hurricanes Betsy, Camille and Ivan.

She said the "contra flow" evacuation plan that was used worked well. Six lanes were available that took people out of the city, and the traffic was not as bad as in the past, she said.

McCurdy said after driving north to Jackson, Miss., a nine-hour drive, they found no rooms available. They stopped in Brandon, Miss., a town east of Jackson, and slept on a hotel lobby floor.

When McCurdy went out to the car to retrieve something, a flying piece of debris hit her in the eye and damaged her cornea. That was before the full force of the storm. There were 110-mph winds that caused the power to go out, she said.

'People were amazing'

On Tuesday, Aug. 30, they started driving west and stopped in Minden, La., in the Shreveport area. Minden was full of evacuees, but they found a small motel called the Exacta Inn and spent five days there.

"The people were amazing," she said.

"A woman walked up to me in a store and offered her home to share with us, free meals were served to the Katrina evacuees, and an ophthalmologist in town treated my injured eye, but would not charge me."

"There were many acts of kindness."

McCurdy said she found some former Slidell neighbors in the motel, and they were getting information from friends about how bad the city was hit. They were helpful in locating McCurdy's two older children that live on their own. Her son was with his dad - her ex-husband - and her daughter was with friends in Houston.

It took about one week to learn they were OK.

Slidell, La., is in St. Tammany Parish, and McCurdy said her rented house is close to a bayou inlet on the north side of Lake Ponchartrain.

"We thought the wind and water would cause some damage, but we learned the houses in the area had a lot of water damage," she said.

This was caused from the storm surge, not from a breached levee, she said. The area was badly damaged.

McCurdy said she saw a story on Ben Morris, the mayor of Slidell, and how he took charge without the help of FEMA or any other federal agency.

"He took charge to get the city operational. He also lost his home," she said.

Coming home

A week later, Sept. 5, when the water receded, they were allowed to come into the area to assess the damage, she said.

"Slidell was under martial law, and we could only go into the city from 6 a.m. and be out by 6 p.m. to view and assess property.

"The beautiful tree-lined area looked like a toothpick area. My daughter's bus stop area had 'SOS' and 'HELP' written on the street. My daughter was very upset seeing that."

"After seeing the damage to the outside of the house, my daughter did not want to go inside," she said. McCurdy said she wanted Molly to see all the damage. By seeing it herself, she would know that they could not live there.

"I had to use the force of both feet to kick in the front door because it was swollen from the water," she said.

"We saw the house had had more than 4 feet of water inside. The line was waist high and everything was already beginning to mold. I saw the refrigerator had floated into the center of the kitchen and was now face down on the floor. Black, shiny mud was throughout the house and even on the kitchen countertop. Sewerage filled our bathtub."

She said Molly was physically upset and McCurdy felt it was "too much to take in." They both saw items they wished they had taken.

Even though they were at the site for less than two hours, her two older children and ex-husband came to the house. "They all showed up," she said.

The stench was bad inside, but outside it was a very strange smell. "Like decay," she said.

When they got ready to leave, the outside door was so warped, it could not be closed.

McCurdy is a registered nurse. She works as a claims examiner in the benefits department in the Department of Veterans Affairs compensation and pension division at the New Orleans regional office. It is two blocks from the Superdome.

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