09/12/05 — Waiting and wondering what Katrina wrought

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Waiting and wondering what Katrina wrought

By Turner Walston
Published in News on September 12, 2005 1:50 PM

An Air Force family who evacuated their home in Mississippi have found safe haven with family in Goldsboro.

Tech Sgt. Miquel Lifsey and his wife, Tonisa, are no stranger to hurricanes. The U.S. Air Force has taken the couple to bases that have been hit hard by the storms in recent years. They have not just lost one car to hurricane damage. They have lost three, in Hurricanes Andrew, George and, now, Katrina.

Since 1998, Lifsey has been stationed at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss., working in information technology. He and his wife were both at Homestead Air Force Base in Florida when Hurricane Andrew hit in 1992.

So, when a mandatory evacuation was issued in Biloxi on Aug. 28, the Lifseys knew what to do.

"We have experience," Lifsey says. "When they say category four, category five, that means leave."

The Lifseys did just that, packing up what they could and hitting the road with son, Miquel, 10, in tow.

"We were given a certain distance that we had to go, so we went to Jackson, Tenn., first," Lifsey said. "We were waiting for the order to come back. And since it was so bad, of course, that didn't happen. Still hasn't happened. So, we were given the order to go see family."

So the Lifseys drove from Jackson to Goldsboro to stay with Mrs. Lifsey's parents, James and Vera Logan. They arrived Sept. 2.

The Lifseys' neighborhood in Ocean Springs, Miss., was hit hard. Their home, Mrs. Lifsey said, is "uninhabitable." "They haven't really been able to get the insurance agents out there because there's so much devastation and limited ways to get in," she said.

For now, they wait in Goldsboro for the next step.

"It's been stressful, the not knowing," Mrs. Lifsey said. "But we feel extremely blessed because we've seen just how much devastation there was, and we were fortunate not to have to be in a shelter or shifted to places where we didn't know anybody."

The couple said it took several days before Miquel understood the circumstances. The Lifseys evacuated Ocean Springs last September ahead of Hurricane Ivan. When the area experienced minimal damage, they returned home.

"He got to sleep on the sofa bed at the hotel so that was an adventure," Mrs. Lifsey said. After about three days, she said Miquel began to realize this time was different.

"He said, 'What about my school? What about my friends? Did they evacuate?' and we don't know. We're assuming these people evacuated. You just don't know, and what do you tell a child in that situation? You hope for the best," Mrs. Lifsey said.

So the Lifseys can only wait for orders from Keesler, and try to make life as normal as possible for Miquel. He will begin fourth grade at Tommy's Road Elementary Monday.

"When you have a planned vacation, that's one thing. A forced vacation, and you really didn't bring everything you would have probably like to bring, it's a little different," Lifsey said.

They have passed the time watching movies, and attended a church service at The Lord's Table.

Mrs. Lifsey said she and her husband have been trying to contact both the Federal Emergency Management Association and their insurance adjuster. Calls to FEMA have not yet gone through.

"They had a Web site up, but the Web site has been disconnected because they were just overloaded. We have been able to get some assistance from the Red Cross and from the Family Support Center out on base," she said.

Lifsey said Katrina can teach all property owners a lesson.

"People along the coast, they've been through many hurricanes," Lifsey said. "If it's a category 4 or 5 storm, I strongly suggest that they would evacuate. And it is not because of the storm, it's because of the aftermath. I believe that the smaller storms give people a false sense of security. Flooding, no lights, no sewage, no water, no food and for a couple of days, probably no help. If you have a family, it is probably imperative for you to get them out of there."

The Lifseys said community members in Goldsboro have been very supportive.

"A lot of them say that their thoughts and prayers are with us. They're glad that we evacuated," she said. "They wish more people had."