Click ‘Play’ to hear Shirley Corr describe her ordeal with the higher cost of insurance.
WAVELAND, Miss. — Two months ago, Shirley Corr, 70, reluctantly retreated from her home here, near the beach, and went to her son’s house in Bay St. Louis to get out of Katrina’s way. It was not far enough. As floodwaters swept through that town, she ended up wading through chest-high floodwaters, holding her Chihuahua, Buffy, in one hand over her head, until her family secured a boat.
“It was a horrible nightmare,” she says. “I tried to never talk about it again. At least we survived.”
Having escaped with her life, she is now wading through the system, trying to figure out how to move forward. Nothing about her course is clear, and she struggles against tears as she thinks out loud. While she most wants to return to her longtime home, the numbers just don’t add up.
Corr’s single-story home, built by her husband in 1964, is still standing in this largely demolished neighborhood, but floodwaters up to the roofline destroyed everything in it.
As she leads the way through her home, which was recently gutted and cleaned out by volunteers, she points to the porch that her husband enclosed to expand her kitchen and create an extra bedroom and the shelves where she kept her angel collection. “I had hundreds,” she says.
This is where she raised four sons, prayed, fed the squirrels, tended her beloved amaryllis, prayed and said a final farewell to her husband when he died eight years ago. On the lot behind the house, there is no sign of the barn where the family once kept a pony. Her sister’s house just up the street is demolished.
Relief workers have politely stacked soggy memorabilia outside the front door, including family pictures, a doll-sized high chair, a Green Bay Packers tee-shirt autographed by local boy-turned football hero Brett Favre and a sodden magazine commemorating Elvis Presley.
Corr picks up a white vinyl bag that she can't open because the zipper has rusted. “These are my husband’s funeral items,” she says.
She is deeply attached to this place, but there are many obstacles to returning. Cost is at the top of the list. Corr will get little in the way of homeowners insurance, since it covers only damage above the waterline.
Fortunately, she did carry some flood insurance — about $42,000 worth. But how far will it go? At the moment, it isn’t clear whether any part of the house can be salvaged, given the mold and rot that have taken hold.
And her insurance agent warned her that if she does rebuild, rates for this area are going to be sky-high — probably unaffordable, she reckons, given her fixed income of $800 a month.
The reality Corr is facing is an unfamiliar one — being forced to rely on family, friends or the government for help. When this area was hit by Hurricane Camille in 1969, there was flooding here, but her husband was alive, and able to do much of the repair himself. She was much younger then, and always willing to roll up her sleeves.
“I know plenty of people who depend on other people. I’ve never been that kind of person. I do for myself,” says Corr. “If the house needed painting, I’d get out there and paint it.”
For now, the government isn’t even allowing residents to put their FEMA trailers on lots in this neighborhood, because the entire infrastructure — sewer, electrical and water — were ripped out by the floodwaters.
Last week, seven weeks after Katrina hit, Corr received a FEMA trailer, and has it parked about a mile up the road, in the yard of her youngest son. He’s not there though, because his house is also uninhabitable. He is on the wait-list for a trailer.
The trailer is tidy and livable, and now equipped with a new television and coffee pot. It's comfortable enough for her and Buffy. They even have a yard ornament — a concrete goose named Lucy that survived the flood — posted outside the door.
It could be a lot worse, she knows. There are people still in tents, who have no insurance, or no family. There are for sale signs dotting the neighborhood, and she knows that some people with unpaid mortgages will have no choice but to sell.
But Corr is a determined woman and doesn’t seem likely to give up on returning to her home easily. She has been back to her property often, to trim the bushes and mow the lawn, both of which have actually started to turn green again after the salty floodwater apparently had killed everything. And on Thursday she applied to the Army Corps of Engineers to have all the debris removed from her lot.
She relates a conversation she had earlier in the week: “Someone said to me: ‘How old are you? Why don’t you just spend the rest of the time you have in the trailer?’” Corr was incensed at the idea. “I plan to live awhile,” she says.
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