A Gulfport Family Surveys the Damage

Faith and Carl Felth remained in Gulfport, Miss., during hurricane Katrina. They stood outside for most of the storm, while their 1-year-old, Brendan, slept peacefully.

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Then they saw the storm surge. They describe it as coming so quickly that they barely had time to get the baby and a few possessions upstairs. They stood on their second floor at the top of the stairs and watched the water creep up one, two, three, four steps. To their relief and amazement, it stopped there.

The Felths consider themselves lucky, though the water destroyed most everything on their ground floor, depositing mud, sewage, tree limbs, siding and joists from other houses, baseballs, seashells and even a jellyfish on their floors.

Faith and Brendan Felth

Faith Felth, with 1-year-old son Brendan, and husband Carl (not pictured) say if they had to do it over again, they would have fled their Gulfport, Miss., home. Gisele Grayson, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Gisele Grayson, NPR

Faith gives us a tour of the house to show us the detritus and destruction. We walk through the house to the back door, and Faith shows us the first of three caskets that came from the funeral home down the street. She brought one casket into her living room; it was a baby's. She didn't feel right leaving it outside.

Water broke through a panel in the back door; a desk now lies sideways in front of it to keep the dogs in and the bugs out. She moves it, and we go into the backyard. The flood moved her back porch to the left several yards; a hot tub showed up in her neighbor's yard. The fence that surrounded her backyard has disappeared. She points, rather grimly, to the two other caskets in her neighbor's yard.

We go back through the house, and Faith shows us her toddler Brendan's room. She starts to cry when she shows us how the flooding destroyed the brand new crib. Her sister and her mother had saved $200 to give it to them just a few weeks earlier as a first birthday present. It's the only damage that really upsets her.

The entire house, she says, smells like a cross between dead fish and sewage.

We come back out to the front, where a small playpen and some toys are drying. Carl, her husband, and two friends are in the front trying to make their small road passable for emergency vehicles. The makeshift clean-up crew shovels and rakes and moves large items of debris, while they wonder what they are. They find some padded benches — probably pews from the funeral home. All three heave a large part of somebody's roof onto their pile. Baseballs in plastic bags are everywhere. Most of the debris is glass, wood and branches.

Carl looks towards the beach when he describes the water's march towards the house. He notes that you can still see the water from where we're standing. Even though the water is now a hundred yards away, it's still much higher than usual. We ask him to come to the end of the street to show us where the water view usually starts, and he leads us around the tree and the house left in the middle of his street, through somebody's yard, over lots of debris.

We stand at the end of the street and he points to the former location of a bingo parlor, a Mexican restaurant that's now only a foundation, the destroyed funeral home, and a few other foundations that were small stores. Highway 90 is not recognizable as a road.

To the right, we suddenly notice a gas leak. It's just a few feet away, but so large you could see it as well as smell it. We see an old man shuffle out of the remains of a small retirement home, which is receiving the brunt of the gas fumes.

The Felths remained in Gulfport partly because they could not get together enough money to leave on time, and partly because they just didn't think it would be so bad. They'd had storm warnings before: Houses in their neighborhood withstood Hurricane Camille, the terrible 1969 storm by which all others are judged down here. If they had to do it again, they'd leave.

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