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Katrina evacuees settle here happily

Katrina evacuees settle here happily
Katrina evacuees settle here happily
Jolie O'Neal and her son, Tyler, have relocated here. (Photo by Randy West)

Jolie O’Neal could hardly believe her eyes when she saw the home prepared for her and her 7-year-old son, Tyler, when they arrived in Corydon, straight from Ocean Springs, Miss., still reeling from the after-effects of Hurricane Katrina.
‘I would never have expected this,’ said O’Neal, wide-eyed and grinning with delight at the spotless, two-bedroom furnished apartment provided rent free by Vicki Kitterman, owner/broker of Century 21 Champion Real Estate in Corydon.
‘I would have been happy with space just big enough for us to sleep,’ O’Neal said.
‘And look. Look at this,’ she said, opening a pantry door in the kitchen, There, lined up as neat as on a Seinfeld set, were some seven or eight boxes of high-test cereal plus other goodies to make do until she could get to the grocery.
On the counter, a bright balloon danced and sang, ‘Don’t Worry; Be Happy!’
‘That’s all you can do,’ O’Neal said. ‘I am so thankful and I am so pleased that I have this for Tyler.
‘He said, ‘This house just rocks!’ ‘
Kitterman said she decided to make the apartment available because, well, she wanted to help, and the space had become available in her business complex. She furnished the downstair’s apartment with furniture from rental property she had sold in Salem.
When O’Neal and her son moved in, they not only found the usual microwave, TV, refrigerator and such, but also a computer with Internet access and a bouquet of yellow roses.
Back home in Ocean Springs, where she was reared, the $100,000 house O’Neal, a nurse, was buying with her earnings at a bank and the community hospital, sits waterlogged eight feet up the walls and stinking from the mud and muck washed in from a nearby bayou.
‘I’ve always been scared of tornadoes, not of water,’ she said. ‘We get so used to hurricanes. You pack up, head out of town and (the hurricane) turns and hits Florida.’
Preparing to evacuate on Sunday, Aug. 28, before the hurricane hit the next day, O’Neal said she did the laundry and mowed the lawn, expecting to return home to life as usual. But it has been anything but.
After the hurricane, she and her son and her parents, Dan and Christine Garrett, came to Corydon to the home of their daughter-in-law and son, April and Larry Miller. Their home was bulging with three children and April was recovering from surgery, so the Garretts and O’Neals checked into the Baymont Inn. They stayed as rent-free guests of the hotel for several days before returning to Ocean Springs, where O’Neal said her parents are trying to salvage the home, which means gutting it of soaked and moldy material.
O’Neal said the damage in her house is especially bad because the water, much of it from the bayou, was several feet deeper than at her parents’. Insurance is fighting the claims, saying homes were covered for hurricane damage not flood damage. But the hurricane caused the flood, so the issue rages.
O’Neal said she’s heard rumors of things that may happen to help the hurricane victims, but she doesn’t know what to believe. And she’s going to give herself three months to remain calm.
Meanwhile in Corydon, O’Neal has already found employment. She is the new school nurse for the South Harrison Community School Corp.
And her son is settled in second grade at Corydon Elementary.
The really great part?
After this week, South Harrison will get a one-week fall break from school. Does Tyler want to go someplace to relax and recoup from all the upheaval?
Not a chance.
‘He wants to stay right here,’ his mother said.