Many survivors of Katrina endured harrowing experiences with the forces of nature and some of its smaller creatures.
Hurricane Katrina, which devastated a huge swath of the American Gulf Coast in late August 2005, provided many amazing stories of heroism, survival, and divine protection. Following are two of those stories, taken from the book Between Hell and High Water by Kay Kuzma and Brenda Walsh. To obtain a copy of the book, call 1-800-765-6955 or visit AdventistBookCenter.com.
The Frog and Other Unwelcome Guests
Jen Colter, like so many others, decided to ride out the storm from her home. After all, her house in Bay St. Louis had never before flooded. But when the wind and the waves hit, her house started breaking up. Then one entire side collapsed, and she was swept away in the current. Jen clung to the closest board and frantically started kicking toward her neighbor’s house, which was still standing. But the current kept taking her farther and farther away until she found herself among the trees in the woods about two blocks from her home. The incredible thing is that she made it that far without knowing how to swim. Jen kept herself above water by holding on to floating debris. But once caught in the mass of trees, she held on for dear life to the branches.
It would have been safer to grab the lower, stronger branches. The problem was, the water was so high that she found herself in the tops of the trees, trying desperately to keep her head above the surface by holding on to tiny branches that snapped off easily.
To make matters worse, other creatures were trying to survive as well—and they weren’t your typical family pets! Water moccasins! Jen is petrified of snakes. When she saw the first snake dart past her, Jen nearly had a heart attack. Her heart began racing so fast, she thought she would die. Her breathing was so rapid she began hyperventilating and almost passed out. If only she could climb higher in the tree to get away from those horrible reptiles—but there was no place to go! All Jen had was a precarious hold on a few tiny branches in the upper most part of a tree.
As Jen struggled to hold her nose above water, something big plopped on her head. She screamed! Without thinking, Jen almost let go of the branch she was holding on to as she tried to hit the creature away. When that didn’t work, she violently started shaking her head to get it off. The harder she shook, the more the creature dug into her hair. Snakes, alligators, lizards were all she could think of. What was it?
Then, above the roar of the wind, she heard a loud, raspy croak right next to her ear! A frog! A huge, gnarly bullfrog was sitting on top of her head. Jen shuddered. How can this be happening to me? she wondered.
And as if this wasn’t bad enough, water moccasins started swimming around her. Could it be they were attracted to the frog—or were they merely curious? Every time one swam within arm’s reach, Jen would hold on to the branch a little tighter with one hand and swat the snake away with the other. The effort was just enough to cause the snakes to be caught up in the current and be dragged in the other direction. All day long she battled the snakes, thankful it was daylight so that she could see the snakes coming. The only way Jen survived was thinking about her family, her friends, and her life, which she knew was never again going to be the same. And throughout it all, she prayed, shouting to God above the wind. “God, help me! God, you ain’t done with me yet. I’m not goin’ down like this. God, You’ve got to help me.”
At one point during the storm she saw a deer—just a short distance away—trying desperately to swim and hold its head above water. For a brief second, they stared at each other, and Jen could see the terror in its eyes. The sight will haunt her for the rest of her life. Minutes later, she watched the deer disappear beneath the surface.
For six hours, Jen clung to the tree. As the water receded, she grasped the next lowest branch, inching her way down until her feet touched the ground. The water was still above her waist. But now, with both hands free, she was finally able to fling the frog from her head.
When she walked out of the woods and told her story, Jen ended by saying, “I can’t believe I made it through the hell of that storm. I know God took care of me. I wish I could understand why so many others didn’t make it. I am thankful to be alive.” Then she added, “I’m sure the frog is too!”
Invaded by spiders
For the first five hours of the hurricane, Ashley Bleidt and her beloved cat, Tom-Tom, hid in the linen closet in her bathroom. Then the water started coming in under the door. Ashley waded through waist-deep water to her kitchen counter and climbed up. But soon that, too, was flooded. Suddenly, there was a tremendous splash as the refrigerator toppled over on its back and floated in the water. She jumped on the refrigerator as it floated by and pulled Tom-Tom up next to her.
The room was churning like a giant washing machine. Ashley was having a hard enough time staying on the refrigerator herself; how could she save her cat? She jerked open the freezer door and shoved him inside, leaving the door open just enough so he could breathe.
The refrigerator floated into the living room. Then a strong surge of water ripped the front door away, and Ashley felt herself being sucked outside. She clung to the door frame, but the current was too strong, and the refrigerator slid out from under her and floated away. Ashley screamed for Tom-Tom, but she realized it was no use. Her efforts now turned to saving herself. She managed to swim to a tall tree in her yard.
The water continued rising, forcing her to climb up the tree. Ashley wedged herself between the trunk and a large limb, praying that it would hold as the wind stripped away the leaves. Looking down, she watched all kinds of debris float by in the putrid, foul-smelling water—furniture, cars, metal, animals.
Suddenly, Ashley felt something crawling up her leg; she tried to brush it off. A few minutes later, she felt a crawling sensation on her back, then across her arm. Ashley took one look and shuddered. Her body was being invaded by huge black spiders! At any other time she would have screamed and fled. Now she could do nothing. The water swirling below was far more terrifying.
Then, without warning, Ashley was forced violently against the trunk. The pain was excruciating, but she held on. A funnel of water rose beside her. Looking down, she could see a circle in the water all the way to the ground. Other funnels were spinning around her. She was being hit by tornadoes! Ashley began to panic. She thought she was going to be shaken out of the tree. I’m not going to make it! I’m going to die! she thought.
Then her skin began to burn from the chemicals in the polluted water. It felt like needles stinging her. Ashley clung to that branch for eight hours. At one point she looked around and was surprised to find she was not alone. There on another branch was a possum, clinging to the tree. Together—unafraid of each other—they waited out the fury of the storm.
When the water went down, two men waded through the muck to her tree. “We can’t reach you,” they called out. “You’re going to have to slide down yourself.”
Straining, Ashley managed to grab an overhead branch. She lifted herself just enough to get her legs off the limb where they had been wedged and then slid down the trunk, scraping her body against the rough bark. The men caught her and held her up until her legs were strong enough that she could stand alone. Putting their arms around her, the men walked until they found a police officer, who directed them to a clinic.
Although her body was bruised and bleeding and her back was killing her, it was the pain in her ear that was driving her crazy. It was as if something was hammering on her eardrum. A nurse poured alcohol down her ear, and a big black spider crawled out! Ashley almost fainted! She had spider bites, bruises, and scratches all over. Later, she learned that her pelvis was broken, probably by the tornado that lifted her out of the tree and thrust her back against the trunk.
When Ashley was able to return home, she was devastated to see that her house was completely destroyed. “I’ve lost everything! I’ve got nothing left, nothing!” she cried. “But at least I’m alive, and I’m thankful for that!”
What does it take to be a survivor? As you consider the fear factors endured by the Katrina survivors, you probably think you would die of a heart attack before you could endure spiders, rats, frogs, water moccasins, not to mention the shear terror of the storm itself. But the truth is, you can survive more than you think. “You can do everything with the help of Christ who gives you the strength you need!”1
You can’t choose the trials that will come to you. Only God knows what lies ahead, and in mercy He chooses not to reveal the future. If He did, and you knew what you were going to have to endure, you would spend your life worrying about it! Jesus came to give you an abundant life. When tough times come, what an incredible sense of calm and security you can have if you believe that God will never ask you to go through something you can’t handle.2 With Jesus, you can always say as Paul did, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.”3
Did you enjoy reading the stories in this article? Many more are available in the book Between Hell and High Water, also by Kay Kuzma and Brenda Walsh. Call
1-800-765-6955 or visit AdventistBookCenter.com.
Kay Kuzma is the director of Family Matters Ministry. She writes from Cleveland, Tennessee. Brenda Walsh, the producer and host of a children’s program on 3ABN called Kids Time, writes from Knoxville, Tennessee.