Evacuees find refuge at church home in Houlka


By Pat Burgess

Chickasaw Journal

HOULKA - On Aug. 20 when Rod Scheidel realized that Hurricane Katrina was heading to the area, he sent his family consisting of great nephew Donald, Kira, and 7-month-old great-great niece Anayah to Wiggins to safety.

He decided he would stay in Bay St. Louis in their townhouse and ride out the storm to protect their possessions if the worse happened. “I will never forget the howling sound of the wind and of trees snapping,” Scheidel said, “I hear it in my sleep.”

After the wind stopped, the water came. Scheidel had weathered many storms before, but the area had never flooded.

“I expected the wind, but not the water,” said Scheidel, “it was coming from the back from Waveland and from the front from the beach.

“I knew I was in trouble when the streets began flooding. Water was coming into the house from under the door.”

Seven of his neighbors were calling for help from their one story dwelling. Four of the seven couldn’t swim. Scheidel managed to get his neighbors inside his townhouse. They all moved to the second floor to escape the water.

Eventually the water receded. When it was safe to go outside, 90 percent of the buildings were gone.

“There was a one-and-a-half to two-block strip of houses left,” said Scheidel. “We were saved by the seawall, but all around was devastation, mud and debris.”

There was no communication. Phone lines and cell towers were blown away. It would be a long two-week wait before help came to the area. “The neighbors and I sat on the corner of our street day after day waiting for help to come,” said Scheidel.

“The first help we received was from churches. I don’t know what we would have done without them. They were wonderful.”

Scheidel’s family had contacted the Red Cross who told them he was presumed dead.

However, a sister living in Virginia was watching the CNN coverage of the hurricane and saw him at a shelter where he was eating breakfast.

Anxious to find his uncle, nephew Donald Viverito set out from Wiggins to Bay St. Louis on Thursday following the storm. It was a very happy moment when they were all reunited.

By this time, the house they shared was reeking with mold and mildew. There was no electricity. The Red Cross provided tents. The family slept in the tents for almost two months, fighting flies and mosquitoes.

They received their food from make-shift food distributors set up in parking lots. They protected their salvaged belongings while waiting for further assistance.

Then came Hurricane Rita and they  realized they could not stay. They loaded their possessions, their two dogs, Hank and Rocko, and left the Bay St. Louis area. They traveled to West Point to the shelter of Mary Holmes College.

Harrison Upshaw, pastor of First United Methodist Church of Houlka, contacted the Red Cross. The church owned a three-bedroom house they said they would like to offer to a family.

Rod, Donald, Kira and Anayah found a home. “I really like Houlka,” said Rod Scheidel. “It’s real laid back and it’s quiet here. It’s the only place I know where I can walk and feel safe. The people have been so nice.”

Kira had lived her whole life in Bay St. Louis before Hurricane Katrina. She likes Houlka but said it will take some getting used to. She agrees that the quiet is nice and likes that there is no crime. Donald likes to fish and misses the daily salt water fishing he enjoyed on the coast. He’s currently looking for a job and thinks he might have to extend his search into other areas. It’s too soon for them to know if they want to put down roots in Houlka, but for right now, it feels like home.

- This story appeared in the Nov. 16 issue of the “Chickasaw Journal” and is used with permission.