Carrie Gonzalez and children: Hurricane Katrina brings family to county


Carrie Gonzalez sits alone on her uncle’s deck pondering the events of the past two weeks while looking forward to an uncertain future. She knows she and her family are among the lucky survivors of Hurricane Katrina. She knows she wants to go back and rebuild her life and her home in Biloxi, Mississippi. What she doesn’t know is when, or how.

Carrie and her two children: daughter Kaitlyn who will turn nine years old on Monday, and son Christopher who will be eight years old tomorrow (Friday) were able to leave their Biloxi, Mississippi home on Wednesday — two days after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast from New Orleans to Biloxi. They drove east on Interstate 10 and then north on Interstate 65, heading to Carrie’s uncle Randall Miller’s home on Popcorn Ridge in Switzerland County.

Randall and his wife Frances have opened their home and their hearts to Carrie, Kaitlyn, and Christopher.

While Carrie and the children have escaped the devastation and the suffering brought on by Hurricane Katrina, Carrie’s husband, Joe, remains in Biloxi. Joe, a volunteer fireman, spends his waking hours helping search the rubble that once were homes and businesses, desperately hoping to find survivors, but knowing the best hope is to find nothing.

Carrie knows Katrina has changed her life forever. She knew the instant she left her damaged home and walked two blocks south to check on friends and “everything was completely gone!”


This is Carrie’s story:


“We tried to leave Sunday before the storm, but couldn’t get out. The interstate (I-10) was stopped with traffic. We were afraid we would get caught in the storm, so we went back home

“The day before the storm we put the boards on our windows and got the loose yard ornaments put away, and went to bed about one o’clock that morning. The rains had already started coming in but they weren’t very strong yet. We got up about five o’clock that morning. About 15 minutes after we got up, the storm wasn’t there yet, but we lost power. Once we lost the power, we couldn’t see much because our windows were all boarded.

“You could hear the rain whistling through the doors and the house creaking and hear debris hitting the sides of the house. Then the winds started picking up. We could hear trees snapping. We had left an opening about this big (one and one half feet) in our sliding glass door so we could get out in an emergency if we had to. We could look out that opening and see the trees bending sideways and debris flying through the air. Trees were snapping and just toppling over.

“It was just really scary. When the worst part of the storm started to come through, the vent on the top of my house that leads to my bathroom blew off and the wind came down the pipe and shattered my bathroom mirror.

“We could hear things hitting everything. We stayed in our hallway because we knew tornadoes are spun off of hurricanes.

“We had some damage to our house. I remember walking out after the storm and thinking how bad it looked in my neighborhood. The next day we got up in the morning to go check on a few friends, and everything two blocks south was completely gone.

“All I can remember is crying. Uncontrollably crying. I could be okay one minute and the next minute in tears. It’s a feeling that you can’t even describe when how you feel when you look and see that everything you have ever known your whole life is all gone.

“It was really an emotional and traumatizing event. I can tell you that. The kids are very upset about it. They have been on an emotional roller coaster since it happened. They don’t understand what is going on. It has really affected them seeing their school gone. When we drove by the school there were boats and jet skis inside the school.

“I have five friends with small babies and when I went to check them out all that was left of their homes was a concrete pad. They have nothing to salvage because nothing was left.


“It is really devastated down there. Really devastated. There were fish in the street from the ocean (The Gulf is two miles away) Neighborhoods are completely flattened. All you see is the roof with everything flattened underneath. Roadways are impassible — bridges are gone. There were several neighborhoods where there was no sign of life when it was confirmed people had actually stayed there. There were houses in the middle of the street.

“There was a chlorine fire. People were getting sick from the fumes.

“There were apartment buildings where the second floor fell into the first floor. There was debris everywhere. Refrigerators and appliances were in the middle of the road. Cars and trucks and boats were in the houses.

“It was complete devastation. It was mostly from water. They estimate that a 30-35 foot tall wave came in, And the wind. We had both ends of it. Almost every structure you see there has something wrong with it. The people south of us lost everything they ever owned.

“After the storm passed we took the boards off our windows to let the air come through at night. We had candles. By the second night the bugs were coming in. We had a little make-shift room in our living room for everyone. We slept on mattresses and were being bitten by spiders and other things.

“We couldn’t flush our toilets. People don’t realize how important it is to flush the toilets. The living conditions were becoming unbearable. Once we got trees cleared out of our neighborhood, I was able to get out of town Wednesday with my kids.

“A lot of people are going to wonder why people didn’t evacuate. One of the main issues I did hear a lot from friends is gas prices. Families can’t afford to leave their homes because of gas prices and because they couldn’t afford to stay in a motel for a week. A lot of people had nowhere else to go. A lot of people lost their lives because they couldn’t afford to leave.”



When asked if any friends were lost or unaccounted for Carrie said: “Not that we know of. Friends that were real close to us got in touch with us because they had nowhere else to go. It was just so emotional because people had lost everything they had worked so hard for all their lives.

“Supplies were getting scarce. People say you had plenty of time to prepare, but once a storm is two days away Wal-Mart can’t get the trucks in there to bring the supplies to replace the supplies that have run out.

“My friends were running short of water and food. One friend who has a two year old and a three-month old baby was running out of formula and diapers.

“We had one friend who lived on the beach, tell us all he had left was a cement slab.”

When asked if she had seen any aid or support coming in from outside, Carrie responded: “Not at that point. But when I got on Interstate 65 I started seeing convoys of trucks, power trucks, Red Cross trucks and stuff.

“I have been watching the news where people are saying supplies didn’t get there in time, but when you go through something like that some places are so impassable you can’t get the relief there in time.

“I hate that all this stuff is going on in the media. Now is not the time to be pointing fingers at who is to blame for what happened. Instead of people blaming each other for who did what wrong for not getting there on time need to understand that the roads were so impassable even our own rescuers couldn’t get there. There were houses in the middle of streets.

“People need to know it is not that easy to get in. That’s why they tell you that you need to make a hurricane kit with enough food and water to last three days for every person in the house. People lost all that when their houses were washed away. Nobody knew it was going to be that bad. You just can’t prepare for something of that magnitude.”


Today Carrie sits 750 miles from her Biloxi home. Her children are with her. Her dogs are with her mother, still in Biloxi. Her husband, Joe, continues the search for bodies among the rubble. She has nightmares every night. Even the quiet darkness of the night affects her. She sees stars. In Biloxi, with all the light pollution, she never saw true darkness, seldom saw the stars.

When she hears the sound of an airplane overhead she awakes. For a brief moment she thinks she is back in Biloxi with the constant noise of the planes and helicopters as they search.

When she thinks about the total devastation only two blocks away from her home she feels “lucky and it scares me that I had that two blocks because it could have been me. It makes me wonder what if? I feel lucky, very lucky. All those people lost their lives — makes you feel a little selfish. A little guilty that I’m still alive and my family is fine and two blocks down the road things are not okay.”

She thinks about her husband and the horrible task that lies ahead as he digs through the rubble. She knows there are people unaccounted for that can be buried in rubble the rescuers can’t get to. She says: “I’m sure the death toll will grow tremendously after they have had a chance to go through all the debris. Some of those houses just collapsed. We don’t know what is in there. It could take months to get through all of it.”

She knows that now Joe will only find bodies. She knows he will need counseling as a result.

She thinks about the kids. She is happy that they are safe, and is hoping they can let go of the past weeks. She and her cousins have taken them fishing and played ball with them to get their minds off of everything. Still they are asking questions. They want to know about their school; about the friends they couldn’t make contact with after the storm. Most of all, they miss their dad. And, they miss their dogs Mya and Max who are safe with Carrie’s mother, still in Biloxi. Kaitlyn and Christopher both want to stay here (Switzerland County). They both want to go back home to Biloxi.

They look forward to meeting new friends at Jefferson-Craig Elementary where Christopher is in second grade and Kaitlyn is in third grade. They want to go back home to go to school. They are afraid when they go back to school in Biloxi that they will find some of their friends are lost.


When Carrie thinks of the future she says: “At this point my husband has lost his job. He was a truck driver for Ryder. The building, the business, everything is gone.

I don’t know what we are going to do, how the bills will be paid. People keep telling me to be thankful that I am alive. By all means I am, but where do we go from here?

“I hope we can get back to normal life as soon as possible. I hope we can go home and everything will be okay. That things can get back to normal. I hope that people in America realize that in times of need like this people really count on them and that what they have done so far has been great. I hope everyone keeps up the good work and keeps the donations going down there because everyone appreciates it”

Still there is no question about going back to Biloxi and rebuilding their home and their lives. Carrie says: “It’s my home. I’m kind of scared though because I’ve heard of all the disease and shortages and things, but when I make the decision to go back it will be a better time. My first priority is to make sure my kids have what they need. I want them to go back to school, and I want to make sure they have what they need before I go back.

Meanwhile Carrie Gonzalez sits alone on her uncle’s deck pondering the events of the past two weeks while looking forward to an uncertain future. She hopes that as the nation watches all of the devastation and suffering unfold they can go home at night and say my family is here and the little things we never imagined needing are here. And, everyone can go home and be thankful for what they are.

As she reflects back over a long emotional week, Carrie says; “There are a lot of things in my life I’m going to change because of this. It has made me appreciate my family and the things I do have. It is going to be a life-changing event for me. Maybe there is a little good to come from all of this.”

— Mike Cooney