CODEN, Ala. (AP) — It’s more about looking forward than looking back for Kenny and Brenda Heaton as the ninth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaches. But what happened then has shaped their today.
To look at the bayou in their backyard, you wouldn’t think it could be the bearer of destruction. It’s only about 15 feet wide, but Katrina’s power swelled the bayou well beyond its banks and into the Heaton’s home.
“The water reached the Chevrolet sign hanging there,” Kenny Heaton said as he pointed to a shed at the front of their property. The Chevrolet sign hangs about 6 feet off the ground.
Kenny said the only belongings they had left after Katrina was what they had packed in their truck to stay with friends in Irvington during the storm.
“It’s devastating,” Brenda said. “You’ll think of something and go look for it and then remember you don’t have it anymore.”
Kenny misses his coins the most. His collection included some coins dating back to the 1800s and silver. However, the safe they were held in was no match for the saltwater.
“If you’re going to live down here, don’t collect anything but $20 bills,” Kenny said with a chuckle.
Brenda does remember one special find. She was driving down the road and spotted something white. She pulled over and discovered it was her wedding veil.
Like many after Katrina, a trailer from the Federal Emergency Management Agency was the Heaton’s home for three years. Kenny said the trailer seemed to get smaller as the days went by.
“If I go camping, the closest I’ll get to a camper is a Holiday Inn Express,” Brenda said.
Rebuilding wasn’t easy for the Heatons. The new building specifications meant their new home would need to sit atop pilings.
“Many families didn’t come back, because they couldn’t comply,” Brenda said.
But Brenda and Kenny didn’t let that stop their plans to build the home they had wanted to build 30 years ago. What did stop their rebuilding was a lack of money.
The couple used all they had, and all they had only bought them half a home. Unfortunately, it was the half without a roof.
“We thought we may have to live under the house,” Brenda said.
Brenda and Kenny reached out for help, but eventually got tired of telling their story. So, when the Lutheran Disaster Response team called offering help the first time, they didn’t go.
“We thought we were fighting a losing battle,” Brenda said.
A couple of months passed, and the Lutheran Disaster Response team called again. This time, the Heatons responded and by April 2008, their home was complete.
The Volunteers of Mobile teamed with the Mennoite Disaster Response team to build the Heaton’s home.
On a tour of the one-bedroom home, Brenda is most proud of her spacious closet and pantry. But what she misses the most is the family members that used to be closer.
“What devastated us most, it was my family dispersed,” Brenda said. “That was harder than losing possessions.”
“We always had a fire out there, BBQs all the time,” Kenny remembered.
“We still get together, but nothing like before Katrina,” Brenda said.
The Heatons say before Katrina about 12 families lived on Georgia Ave. West. Today, there are only about five families.(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)