Mother, Daughter Reunited After Katrina

Tanya Walker was a mother of six living in Long Beach, Miss., when Hurricane Katrina arrived onshore and destroyed her town. In the aftermath of the hurricane, Tanya's mother Betty Higgins was afraid she had died. Walker survived the storm, and she and her mother talk with Renee Montagne about the ordeal.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Three weeks ago, we talked to Betty Higgins, whose daughter Tonya Walker had been missing since Hurricane Katrina slammed into Long Beach, Mississippi.

Ms. BETTY HIGGINS (Daughter Missing): We haven't heard nothing. I love her with all my heart, you know. I just--the not knowing is the only thing that's really killing me right now.

MONTAGNE: Tonya Walker had been unable to evacuate her home before the storm hit. The last time her mother spoke to her, Tonya had been watching the water flood into her house, and then the phone line went dead. Betty Higgins was distraught, sure that Tonya was gone. We are happy to report that Tonya Walker did survive the storm, found at a shelter in Mississippi. We reached her and her mother in Florida, where they're now living an hour's drive away from each other. Betty Higgins told us it was the weekend after the storm hit when she finally heard word of her daughter.

Ms. HIGGINS: I got a call from my granddaughter, who said that her mom had called up, said she was in the shelter and she was OK.

MONTAGNE: And, Tonya, you were, in fact, in a shelter not able to reach out to any of your family really.

Ms. TONYA WALKER (Survived Hurricane Katrina): No, we were gone. Actually, we didn't have lights, water, food, telephone communication or anything for, like, three days.

MONTAGNE: And the shelter was where?

Ms. WALKER: It was in Long Beach, Mississippi. My home was on 90 in Long Beach, Mississippi. And I work offshore so, of course, I got in late and laid down and didn't have time to leave before the storm got there. So I went through the whole storm, watched my house disappear, my car, everything. Everything around me just disappeared.

MONTAGNE: You now know that your mother was frantic and thought you hadn't made it. But tell...

Ms. WALKER: My mother calls me about every other day now just to hear my voice, to make sure it's me and I'm OK.

Ms. HIGGINS: I think when you go through that, I have to hear her. It's--I was on the point of losing control, 'cause I try to keep it together, but I was losing control. I couldn't find my baby. And she's my oldest, but, you know, you can't--it doesn't matter. It was a miracle. That's all I can say. It was a miracle. When she called me Saturday morning and said, `Hello, Mother,' I thought, `Oh, my God, thank you.' That was all I could do and say `Happy birthday, Baby.'

MONTAGNE: Tonya Walker, I mean, your mother says it was a miracle. Tell us about it. I gather you quite literally had to flee for your life.

Ms. WALKER: Well, I had a bathroom collapse around me. I rode rooftops in a little dinghy and mowed over trees and telephone poles and wires like it was nothing. I was on the eastern eye wall. My house was in direct--I only live, like, right across 90 from the beach. And I never realized how furious Mother Nature can be and how unforgiving and--I mean, I watched cars and big-screen TVs and buildings and everything just flying around like it was a kid taking toys out of a toy box. Fin--and we were in the storm for 11 1/2 hours before it calmed down enough.

We amazingly seen this little dog. We knew the water was gonna be going back out, and we had to find shelter or we would end up back out into the ocean with it going back out. And there was this little dog that was barking, and we made our way to where this little dog was. And the water had already started receding, and we stood behind a brick wall while the rest of the wind and everything was going on. And I don't know if the dog was real or not. I really don't because when it was all over with, I couldn't find the dog anymore. But I think there were a lot of miracles that happened that day. And I will say this, I've always heard, you know, that before you die, you see your life pass before your eyes. I believe that, because I'd seen it. And I didn't think I was gonna make it. The only thing I could think about was, `My mom is gonna be so upset because my birthday is Saturday.'

Ms. HIGGINS: See? My daughter knows me very well.

MONTAGNE: That's Betty Higgins and her daughter, Tonya Walker, both safe and sound in Florida today. For complete NPR coverage of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, go to our Web site, npr.org.

This is NPR News.

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