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Stanley Smith

part 1, 2

Stanley and Leslie Smith outside their storm-damaged home in Biloxi.

"I'm not the kind to sit around," says Stanley Smith. In the year after Katrina, Stanley busied himself with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) applications, insurance adjusters and relief organizations. Many other storm survivors did the same.

But as the months rolled along Stanley also built a couple of equipment sheds on his lot, repaired his gas-powered scooter, made a ship-in-a-bottle, overhauled a classic car that got flooded, organized his matchbox car collection into a decorative display, helped neighbors hammer on new roofs, and built a Katrina interpretive garden out back. Pointing to his head, Stanley says, "I know I can be imaginative; that's what keeps my clinker going." In other words, if he didn't keep busy with these projects, Stanley would go out of his mind waiting for the inspections and permits and money he needed to rebuild.

Stanley kept busy, but all with projects he could do in his back yard. He and his wife, Leslie, took turns standing watch for FEMA inspectors and insurance adjusters, who had a tendency to show up unannounced. "A lot of times, they drive by and sort of slow down and hope they don't see somebody," Stanley says. "One of us has to be here."

Both of them were home when Katrina barreled in. The couple decided against going to a local shelter because pets were not allowed and they couldn't think of abandoning their dog, Tater. Soon after the flooding began a National Guard evacuation truck rolled up. The Smiths grabbed Tater and spent the storm at the police station.

Katrina's tidal surge reached the ceiling of Stanley Smith's house.

When they got back home in the late afternoon, the house was wrecked. The storm had shifted it 4 feet off the low cinderblock foundation. With nowhere else to go, Stanley and his wife slept on their screened-in porch. He made a narrow bed from sofa cushions that he doused with bleach and dried out in the sun.

Stanley, 49, and Leslie, 44, lived in their small, timeworn house for 12 years before Katrina hit. Their mortgage was almost paid off. The hurricane's storm surge destroyed virtually everything they owned. Inside the house, a brown high-water mark ran in a line around the walls of each room like a bathtub ring. It was up by the ceiling.

The Smiths' flood casualties included two pickup trucks and two cars. Katrina also wiped out their jobs. Stanley was the head of grounds-keeping at a military retirement home. Leslie was a clerk in a department store. Both places were closed by the storm. FEMA paid them $5,000 for their lost possessions. The house was declared a total loss and the insurance company paid $12,000. Stanley's policy did not cover flood damage.


Continue to part 2