Katrina Evacuees Decide To Stay Or Go

Carroll and Evelyn Gordon spent much of their lives living in the Deep South. Even though Carroll grew up in Chicago, he moved with his family to New Orleans in 1941. And shortly after the Second World War, his father bought a place in Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi, so he spent a lot of his time on the gulf. Evelyn, who spent summers at the beach as well, grew up in New Orleans. And that’s where the couple met and they were married in 1951.

After living away from the coast for a number of years, the Gordons decided to move back to Bay Saint Louis in 1988. Over the years, when hurricanes approached they never hesitated to leave. Evelyn said she was always afraid the large oak tree next to their house would fall through the roof.

“We would always go find a motel, or we had some friends or whatever and we would throw in a few days of clothes and take off for a few days and know that you’d be back in a few days. And this time that kind of didn’t happen,” Evelyn said.

The Gordons’ house was built in the 19th century and was a half block from the beach front. It was also positioned 25 feet above sea level. Carroll said they had never seen water up to their house before. But this time was different. The storm surge was so high their house got three feet of water and six inches of mud.

“Did you imagine that’s what you were going to see? No. No way. I don’t think I could, even now that it’s over I can’t even imagine how it happened,” Carroll said.

Carroll said large appliances and furniture were flipped over, including a very heavy buffet in their dining room. But despite their ages, Carroll’s 81 and Evelyn, 74, they, with the help of family and friends, started the clean up process: piling furniture and dry wall out on the street, and pushing the slimy mud out of the house.

And even though the process was slow and tiresome, Carroll said he surprised himself at what he was able to do.

“Well that’s what this doctor told me when he came back to see if I had everything that I needed, and he saw these people that were moving the mud and he said, did you do that, and I said yeah I did. And he said well whatever else you’re going to die of it’s not going to be a heart attack. It’s kind of funny. But I can drive nails, I can do anything,” Carroll said. Despite the recovery effort that lay ahead of them the Gordons never considered abandoning the coast completely. Evelyn said there’s just something about it that draws you back. But not knowing what it’s going to be like is a little unsettling for them.

“The thing that’s a problem you know, we’re moving back into an area that’s home. But it’s like going to a foreign shore, there’s not going to be anybody there. I just don’t know what we’re going back to,” Carroll said.

Evelyn said a number of their friends have bought or rented houses elsewhere. And they won’t be going back.

And that’s the case for Steve and Janice Shull of New Orleans. The couple lived in the Crescent City for 31 years. He was a professor at the University of New Orleans and she worked at the Louisiana Supreme Court Law Library.

After the levies were breeched the Shulls’ newer home was flooded with seven feet of water. The couple said they considered rebuilding but do not think there will be enough insurance money. So Steve said they’ll likely stay in Columbus.

“We’re already looking for a condominium, small, reducing our size and so on. But we are planning right now any way to stay, and I like the situation here at Ohio State, so I think we will,” Steve said.

The couple came to Ohio after contemplating where they would go, they thought about Austin, Texas. But Steve had gone to OSU for graduate studies. He still knows some of the faculty, and they encouraged him to come to Columbus. Right now Steve is teaching one class at a time in the Political Science department at OSU.

For Steve, his brief taste of poverty following the hurricane has made him appreciate all they had before the storm.

“For the first two months we were living on food stamps, which I never thought we’d be living on food stamps but we did. And that was quite a humbling experience,” Steve said.

While Steve described the holidays this year as strange his attitude remains positive. He’s technically retired, but he said the teaching position brings in a little money and keeps his mind active.

And that positive theme carries over to the Gordons as well. Evelyn’s grandson is getting married next month in Charleston, and she said that gives her something to look forward to.

“The family is all gathering so it will be very nice. My sister and her family, and my sister-in-law will come, and all the ones we’re not seeing to much of now are coming, so. We’ll all go have a good time. Our post Katrina reunion. Our post Katrina reunion, yes,” Evelyn said.

The Gordons hope to be back in their Bay Saint Louis home by summer.

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