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Katrina started us over

Darlene Presley lost all her possessions when Hurricane Katrina swept through Moss Point, Mississippi, in 2005.




Kristen and Randy Presley stand in front of their new Habitat home in Dothan, Alabama.

“When we evacuated, I didn’t take anything but a change of clothes,” she said. “I ended up having to wear the same shoes—a pair of flip-flops—for about 30 days. We were so used to evacuating and coming back in a couple of days, I didn’t bother to take a bunch of stuff.

“I didn’t know it was going to be that bad.”

Presley credits her son, Randy, with getting her to evacuate at all.

“If it hadn’t been for Randy, we wouldn’t have left,” she said. “We were tired of leaving every weekend for what turned out to be false alarms. But Randy said he had a dream about it—that it was going to be bad. So we packed up and left the day before.”

Moss Point suffered massive damages from wind and water, and the only thing Presley could salvage when it was over was her TV.

“I couldn’t find the remote,” she said, laughing, “but the TV still worked!”

She and her 34-year-old daughter, Melissa, who is disabled, evacuated with Randy Presley and his wife, Kristen, and all ended up staying in Dothan. Darlene and Melissa share a house built in partnership with Wiregrass Habitat for Humanity and Oprah Winfrey’s Angel Network, right across the cul de sac from Randy and Kristen and their boys, Tyreke and Anthony, who were only 2 and 1, respectively, when Katrina struck.

“We never thought we’d be homeowners at a young age,” said Kristen, 29, a certified nurse’s assistant at Southeast Alabama Medical Center. “But Katrina started us over. It got us on the right track.”

Randy, 30, is a computer technician who spends whatever free time he has fishing. Tyreke and Anthony, curious and rambunctious, are both doing well in school. Tyreke wants to be a police officer when he grows up; Anthony is still mulling his career options.

Across the street, Darlene and Melissa have settled into their daily routines. Melissa loves to watch game shows on TV, while Darlene is getting out and about more. No longer suffering from stress-induced headaches she began having after Katrina, she recently started taking aerobics classes and participating in other community activities.

“It’s nice to just get out and walk around,” she said. “I’m getting to know the neighborhood.”