Recovery...of Sorts

Same storm, starkly different effects. There was a very different disaster area waiting for me in coastal Mississippi than I saw in Louisiana eight months earlier, and recovery has been markedly different. In both regions, all forms of life were at the mercy of Hurricane Katrina's fury. In Mississippi, it was a 40-foot wall of water raging six to 12 miles inland, obliterating everything in its path and holding horses against trees, fences, and buildings. In Louisiana, it was broken levees that allowed water levels to rise quickly and unexpectedly, and that took weeks to subside.

Traveling the roads in Mississippi was like going back in time to Louisiana in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane. Why? According to Mississippi residents, Katrina hovered over Biloxi, Gulfport, Pass Christian, Waveland, and surrounding areas for nearly five hours before eventually granting survivors clemency and moving inland. Witnesses say as the storm passed, walking wounded--coastal residents--staggered from the woods, dazed after being washed miles from their homes. At least one victim was seen holding her splintered arm. She and many other survivors had no idea where they were.

Biloxi residents tell of 300 bodies floating in the storm's wake, and they stoically say there will never be an accurate official death toll. One Gulfport resident said a body of a Biloxi resident washed up on the coast of Mobile, Ala., which is more than 60 miles away.

The stench of decay along the interstate was finally fading...eight months post-Katrina. One resident honestly said there was not enough time and resources to retrieve the dead last September, so houses that were opened and reeked of death were merely marked on the exterior as having casualties without a body search…the home could have contained animal or human remains. Many of those homes were only recently revisited for body retrieval. They know other bodies will never be found, as they were hidden by debris and eventually taken away with it during massive cleanup efforts.

Mississippi residents were simply caught unaware--they knew Katrina would be harsh, but they didn't expect a full hit. Many residents only evacuated a few miles inland from their homes, so once waters receded, families and neighbors began burying dead animals, cleaning off property, protecting homes from looters, and trying to survive. When they first greeted people after the storm--even acquaintances--they embraced tightly and worriedly asked about family members. All know someone who died in the storm.

I had a two-hour conversation with Jackie Broome, DVM, a Gulfport veterinarian, and Teresa Necaise, a horse owner from Waveland, Miss. (whose story appears in our "Hurricane Special Report" on page 43), as we walked between the barn that survived Katrina, and the sun-streaked, quiet aisle of the barn that was nearly demolished. Necaise was visibly haunted by what she saw on her return to the farm--eyes welling with tears, she pointed to where she found horses' bodies. She introduced me to the pony stallion that survived by swimming for hours in his flooded stall. The wooden walls still bear the slash marks of his frantic hooves.

In Mississippi, I felt the tough sting of a population who felt ignored. The wounds have a long way to go before they can begin to heal. Although in some small ways, the scars are forming.

Jodi Waldrip of Pass Christian, Miss., gave two members of Jump for Joy Pony Club a lesson to prepare them for the upcoming show jumping rally. The girls and ponies wore donated gear and tack and rode with the reminders from tornado damage all around them, but they were all smiles. They won high honors at the rally.

Louisiana, on the other hand, is already mending. There were smiles and stories of hope. Our cover image in November 2005 showed Darnell Stewart with his Paint stallion, Brandy, wading New Orleans floodwaters during days of survival. Stewart now is happy to be back at work with Charbonnet Mid-City Carriages and riding Brandy in gymkhanas and parades.

Then you have Molly, the "tripod pony." She is silent, but her story speaks volumes about post-Katrina recovery (for more information on Molly see page 20). She was given a chance at life after losing her leg due to a dog attack post-Katrina. Today she moves on her prosthetic leg with the speed and agility of a four-legged pony and works as an ambassador for handicapped children.

She reminds us all that while things might never be "normal" again after the devastation of Katrina, adversity and death can be overcome, and a "new normal" can begin.

About the Author

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief, received a B.A. in Journalism and Equestrian Studies from Averett College in Danville, Virginia. A Pony Club and 4-H graduate, her background is in eventing, and she is schooling her recently retired Thoroughbred racehorse, Happy, toward a career in that discipline. She also enjoys traveling, photography, cycling, and cooking in her free time.

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