So we have all lost track of time now, and the good intentions of journal writing have gone out the window. We are so tired at the end of the day we can hardly think. It's usually a quick dinner, some wine and conversation, LOTS of laughter, and off to bed to get up early and start a new day.
We found a new area on our ERV called Gulf Hills. It is a very wealthy resort type area, million dollar houses, a private golf course. Now along the coast line, it is gone. While at a gas station taking a well deserved cola break, a man came up and said he was working on cleaning up his mother's house, and could we please go see the area where the people in the tree were found. We had no idea what he was talking about, but we will go wherever there is a need, so we jumped in and went exploring. That is how we came to find Gulf Hills.
The further we went into the area, the worse the devastation got. When we finally got to the end of the winding streets, there no longer were houses, only piles of lumber and household items. Then we saw what was once a house, now only a pile of rubble, with 4 crosses nailed to the entry way with the names on them of the people that perished in that house.
The house next door had a magnolia tree in the yard, with a ladder leaning on the tree. There was a sign below the ladder, and it was a thank you note to God. It was thanking God for making that tree, which saved a family's life. No people were around, but we stood and stared at that sign, knowing there must be a special story about that very spot, but we thought we would never know what it was. We stood there, and cried. It was so eerie, so quiet, and so moving to be there staring at that sign.
The next day we went back, drawn for some reason to that spot. Some workers were there cleaning up the debris, and a man came over to us. He was a small quiet spoken man, with a thick accent from a foreign country. He said he owned the house with the tree and the sign, and said if we could come back and bring him supper and a cold water later, he would tell us his story. Of course we made his house the first stop on our supper run.
His name is Matthew. His story will live in my heart forever.
Matthew and his wife lived in that very nice house with their 14 and 16 year old daughters. They wanted to evacuate since they had gulf front property, but the news on the TV said that all the roads were busy, and gas was hard to find, so they recommended people wait to evacuate till the last minute when everyone else was gone. They timed it so they would leave 3 hours before it hit land, and got up at 5am to leave. But Katrina came in early, and his truck was already half under water. They could not leave at that point. When the first floor of their house flooded and buckled with the water, they went upstairs. When that flooded, they went on the roof. Then the roof floated off the house. As it spun around, they hit a tree and climbed off into that tree. It was the same magnolia tree we saw the sign and ladder on. The roof floated away, and a large piece of plastic floated to them, they wrapped it around themselves and used electrical cords to tie themselves to the tree. Then a small tree tipped over against the tree they were in, and that little tree saved their lives by deflecting the waves and debris around them, sparing them from taking the full brunt force of the surge. He said the wave came in, and it cleared the trees over yonder. Those trees are 40' high, and he said the surge was much higher than that. He lost his shoes, and his feet were bleeding from the rough bark of the tree. One branch was hitting them in the head with each wave, so he stood and held that branch up off his family. He stood like that for 11 hours. During this time, he knew the 4 people in the house next door were still in the house, and he knew if he left that tree, he would probably lose his life, and possibly the life of his family. When their house collapsed on them and , he felt helpless and is still haunted by his decision, but his family had to come first.
He said that they did a lot of praying in that tree, and they knew all would be ok when the water receded and he could see the nameplate on the top of their mailbox come up out of the water. They had to get a ladder to get them out of the tree. But they are all alive and doing well.
Matthew was crying by the end of his story, and so were all of us. All we could do is stand there and hug this miraculous man and tell him how privileged we were to be able to hear his story. He said God gave him all the tools he needed to survive. The tree, the plastic, the little tree to deflect the debris, and his faith and family for strength. He went on to tell us to live each day as if it were our last, to never let anyone tell us we weren't good people or make us feel bad, and to remember that the USA is the greatest country on earth. And if we were ever feeling down, just remember him and his story, and realize that even when things are bad, there is always something good to come out of it.
We went and found some beanie babies in the ERV for his daughters. And we found one that was a praying bear. We gave it to him and told him that it reminded us of how important it is to keep faith. His tears started rolling down his cheeks again and he said he will keep it forever. I have no doubt that he will. We will never forget him, and I know he will never forget us. Just 4 Red Cross volunteers trying to make someones life easier for a few moments, and in those few moments, he changed our lives and touched our hearts in a way we will never forget.
This is the most unbelievable experience