Escape from Katrina
Mississippi family finds safe haven in Basehor-area home
The war zone on the minds of most Americans, and that of Mississippi resident Debbie Zeitfuss, isn't in Iraq these days, but at home, a mere 1,000 miles away in the Gulf Coast.
"It looks like a bomb went off," said Zeitfuss, who hails from Pass Christian, a town of approximately 14,000 people that is 57 miles northeast of New Orleans. "Our best description is it's our own little Hiroshima.
"I've never experienced anything quite like this."
Zeitfuss, along with three of her granddaughters -- Amanda and Paige Necaise, and Megan Armstrong -- escaped the wrath of Hurricane Katrina and arrived Friday morning at the Basehor-area home of family members Mike and Tammy Reeves.
The cozy confines of the Reeves home, tucked away in the sleepy residential neighborhood of the Ginger Creek subdivision, is as different as different can be from back home.
Here, there is air conditioning, running water and electricity. Back home, there are floodwaters, food shortages and chaos.
Here, there are warm beds and roofs over there heads. In Pass Christian, homes they once lived in have been reduced to rubble.
"This is wonderful compared to what we have left down there," Zeitfuss said. "We lost everything."
A long journey
Their flight from Katrina's fury began at 8 a.m. Thursday. The journey, normally a 15-hour trip, turned far more complicated, Zeitfuss said, and they didn't arrive in Leavenworth County until nearly 4 a.m. Friday.
"It took forever because the debris was so bad," Zeitfuss said.
Filling the car with gasoline, even finding food, became troubling ordeals. Relatives met them in Missouri with supplies for the final leg home.
"We were very glad to see them," Zeitfuss said. "They were a very welcome sight."
But, not all of their family members have reason to rejoice.
Zeitfuss' husband and the girls' parents are living out of trailers and tents at a makeshift camp in Mississippi.
Other family members are spread throughout the country taking shelter where they can find it. Katrina, it seems, made sure their homes weren't a viable option.
"I think the hardest thing about being displaced is the lack of communication," Zeitfuss said. "It's so frustrating not to know how everybody is ... and if they're OK."
Zeitfuss and the girls evacuated their homes Sunday, Aug. 28, a day before the hurricane touched landfall. Judging by the destruction left in its wake, it's a good thing they did.
The eye of the storm, roughly 45 miles wide, ripped through their neighborhood, Pass Christian Isles. One hundred homes stood in the Isles; only four of them were left standing post-hurricane.
None of them belonged to the family.
Zeitfuss' son, Mike Reeves, said he's planning on filling up a truck with goods to take to family members in Mississippi.
Although the family staying at his home in Ginger Creek have been at the center of donations and other relief efforts, loved ones left behind in Mississippi still need help.
"I'm assuming we're going to need a lot of dry and canned goods," Reeves said.
Outpouring of help
The Mississippi clan transplanted to Kansas have been well taken care of thus far. Neighbors and local churches have responded with food and other items and both Basehor-Linwood and Lawrence high schools have chipped in with donations as well.
"The outpouring is heart-wrenching," Zeitfuss said. "We just can't express our gratitude enough to this community."
But, while this area is home today, it's back to Mississippi tomorrow -- or as soon as possible. Zeitfuss and the girls are set to return home by the end of the month.
School is scheduled to resume in Mississippi next month. The girls will attend classes in trailers until schools can be rebuilt.
Family members have plans to rebuild in their home state.
Though the tragedy in the Gulf, a natural disaster turned a man-made one through acts of theft and violence, has marred the spirits of many, Zeitfuss said the resolve of her family remains strong.
"We're taking it day by day," she said. "We'll see what the wind blows and it changes by the minute.
"We went through a lot, but we are stronger as a family. ... I know it sounds corny, but it's absolutely true: You can replace things. You can't replace people."