Family Finds Its Neighborhood Gone

Robert Siegel talks to Sally Lohrbach, office manager of the Salvation Army in Gulfport, Miss. Lohrbach and her husband made it through Hurricane Katrina in the attic of their beachfront home, only to find the rest of their neighborhood gone.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

In Biloxi, Mississippi, earlier today, we reached Sally Lohrbach, who's the office manager there for the Salvation Army, and she described for us the scene in the city that she lives in, Gulfport, Mississippi.

Ms. SALLY LOHRBACH (Office Manager, Salvation Army): There are no houses left on the beachfront, and we live on 2nd Street, one street back from the beach, and our house was totally gutted. And so what else can I tell you?

SIEGEL: You and your husband stayed there throughout the storm and...

Ms. LOHRBACH: We did. My husband works for Mississippi Power and I work for the Salvation Army, and we both feel a strong call to be in the community as soon as the storm was over so that we could begin the recovery process. And it was a calculated risk to stay in our own home; we recognize that. But we really wanted to be here when the storm was over.

SIEGEL: What was like that when you were inside your own home as the hurricane hit?

Ms. LOHRBACH: It was surreal. I remember having a thought that I'm experiencing "The Poseidon Adventure" as the water was rising and getting higher. And we were trying to decide what steps to take next and just focusing on prayer to Christ that--now I know, I believe, that he had me there at the time when he wanted me to be there and that there were purposes in it. We went to our attic and spent the night. The day--I think it was daytime when the water got high, it was--started in the morning, and we stayed up there until it completely receded. And then we went out to find that most of the houses around us were completely gone. As a matter of fact, I have the pair of shoes that I was wearing during the storm, and I found one dry dress that didn't get soaked, and that's all I have.

SIEGEL: And now today, you're in the business of trying to provide some relief and he's in the business of trying to get the power started again, I guess.

Ms. LOHRBACH: That's right. That's why we stayed, so that's what we're doing.

SIEGEL: How are people's spirits holding up in Gulfport and in Biloxi, where we're speaking to you now?

Ms. LOHRBACH: People are amazingly resilient. Some are in shock; some are angry. People are starting to get thirsty; there's not enough water coming in yet. Some people are getting hungry. A lot of people, you know, spent what they had to spend stocking up for the storm, and the storm took it away.

SIEGEL: Do you get the sense that the beach houses and the houses on your block in Gulfport are going to be rebuilt and life is going to return and it's going to get back to normal, or, in effect, has Gulfport, Mississippi, just died in this storm?

Ms. LOHRBACH: I don't believe the people who grew up in Gulfport will let it die. There's a strong sense of community, and families have been in those houses on the beach for generations. I do think they'll rebuild, but--we plan to rebuild.

SIEGEL: How old was your house? When was it built?

Ms. LOHRBACH: I think my house was about 70 years old, maybe 80. I'm not sure. We've been in it for about 30 years.

SIEGEL: Well, that's a lot of one's life to see go by in one day.

Ms. LOHRBACH: It is. It's so sad. My husband journaled every day of his life. He's journaled since he was a little boy, and all his journals are gone. I feel sad for him. I don't have that type of discipline, so I don't journal every day. My journals are gone, too, but it's not every day of my life.

SIEGEL: Well, Ms. Lohrbach, first, thanks for all the work you're doing right now, and thank you very much for talking with us. And I hope life gets put back together soon.

Ms. LOHRBACH: Oh, thank you very much. We certainly appreciate the opportunity to let the outside world know that help is not only needed and desired, I mean, it's desperately needed and desired. So we appreciate your opportunity to let us tell that story.

SIEGEL: Sally Lohrbach of Gulfport, Mississippi, works for the Salvation Army in Biloxi.

And our coverage of Hurricane Katrina's aftermath, including other accounts from people affected by the storm, continues at npr.org.

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