Waiting for word

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 2, 2005

It was more than 36 hours after Hurricane Katrina slammed the Gulf Coast when Teresa and Jack Kelly heard the long-awaited words: &uot;Just tell them we are alive.&uot;

After seeing endless media coverage of one of the most deadly hurricanes ever to hit the East Coast, the Chuckatuck couple was desperate to know their family was safe.

Virginia and Clyde &uot;Buck&uot; Kelly, longtime residents of Chuckatuck, retired to Ocean Springs, Miss., a small golfing community outside of Biloxi, Miss., 12 years ago to be near family. Two of the couple’s children, Timmy Kelly and Cathy Kelly Long, and their respective families also live nearby.

Email newsletter signup

&uot;We just heaved a big sigh of relief,&uot; said Teresa Kelly. &uot;We were on pins and needles until we got that phone call from their neighbor’s brother.

&uot;Then, when the phone finally rang and it was someone we didn’t know, my heart just stopped for a moment.&uot;

Their relatives suffered significant property damage, she said.

The family stayed inside Buck and Virginia Kelly’s inland home during the storm, even as more than three feet of floodwaters swept through the house.

Two second-floor bedroom walls are all that remain of Cathy Long’s waterfront home.

&uot;They lost almost everything but they are alive,&uot; Kelly said. &uot;And that’s all that matters right now.

&uot;When we finally see them, we’re going to hug them and love them. Then we’re going to give them a lecture for not evacuating.&uot;

Katrina has crippled the communications and power systems in Louisiana and Mississippi, making it virtually impossible for hurricane victims to contact family and friends. Unlike the Kelly’s, most local residents are still anxiously awaiting some word their relatives are safe.

Suffolk City Councilman Curtis Milteer and his wife, Sarah, are sticking near home in hopes of hearing from their son, Anthony Milteer, an employee at a shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss. The couple last talked to their son, who had been staying in a hotel, on

Sunday night.

&uot;We’re just hoping he is all right,&uot; said Sarah Milteer. &uot;We are just praying and waiting for a phone call.&uot;

Edna Blough of Chuckatuck, a native of Pascagoula, is anxiously waiting to hear how her

three sisters and brother weathered the storm.

&uot;It’s so frustrating when you don’t know who to call or where to turn,&uot; she said. &uot;I feel so bad for them and just want to know they are ok.

&uot;It’s hard not being able to do anything but wait and pray,&uot; she said. &uot;I’m beside myself,…I just feel like crying sometimes.&uot;

Her son, Ike Blough, has spent several hours on the phone and computer trying to track down family members, thus far to no avail.

Although he hasn’t spoken with anyone, he feels pretty confident that his relatives are safe.

&uot;But I would be surprised if any of them have houses left,&uot; he said. &uot;They just live too close to the water to have anything left.

&uot;If their houses didn’t get flooded, the wind probably tore them up.&uot;

The American Red Cross office in Suffolk is receiving an increasing number of calls each day from people trying to find their relatives, said Faye Byrum, executive director of the organization.

&uot;We have been receiving about half dozen calls a day but we are beginning to see more,&uot; said Byrum. &uot;At first, I think people were holding out in hopes of getting personal phone calls.&uot;

Although the Red Cross normally offers that service, it has temporarily suspended it in order to focus on immediate emergency needs for hurricane victims: shelter, food and medicine.

Byrum is referring callers searching for hurricane victims to three web sites: www.satern.org, sponsored by the Salvation Army; www.gulfcoastnews.com; and www.cnn.com. All three sites provide regularly updated list of people who have checked in with various shelters.

People who believe someone may be trapped in floodwaters can call the U.S. Coast Guard’s national response line at 225-925-7708.