By Crystal Graham
(This is the third installment in a six-part series on The Valley Responds, an effort that links the Shenandoah Valley with residents of Long Beach, Miss.)
Running alongside Highway 90, with breathtaking views of the Gulf Coast, is a narrow driveway leading to 629 Scenic Drive.
One can imagine that this was the kind of house that we all dream of retiring in – with a tree-lined driveway and white picket fence.
Today, a large orange X marks the Kimble home, a sign that much work is necessary before this home can be home once again.
In Pass Christian, just outside neighboring Long Beach, the guest house is bustling with activity, as volunteers work for hours on end to make the space liveable for Lynn, 78, and her husband, Bill, 80.
All is quiet
While things are quiet on the homefront now, except for the occasional sound of a hammer or saw, in late August, when Hurricane Katrina approached, the Kimbles’ home turned to utter chaos in a matter of minutes.
“The winds came, and the water came, and my husband saw the water coming up,” Lynn told The Augusta Free Press after returning to her home to check on volunteers. “Then it came up to the porch, and that’s when I retreated to the staircase,” she said, motioning inside to the stairs through one of the windows. “We watched the water come under the door, 30 inches of rain.
“It didn’t even bother me. I don’t know why,” she said. “I really had a lot of faith that day.”
Moments later, an already scary moment turned potentially deadly.
Lynn watched as many of her treasures that she had collected for years fell into the swirling waters.
“I tried to save them,” she said.
She had no such luck. Worse yet, while wading through the water, she heard a thunk and felt a piece of furniture slam into her leg. She managed to retreat back to the staircase, and the couple waited out the storm.
“We waited until the water subsided, which took a couple of hours,” she said. “We couldn’t call out on cell phones. Our cars wouldn’t work.”
While their dream home had suffered monumental damage, the injury to her leg was far worse than she had ever imagined.
Her son and daughter came to their rescue, and took the elderly couple to Birmingham, where there was plenty of running water and electricity. And thankfully, excellent medical care.
“We got to Birmingham, and I passed out on the bed,” she said.
The next morning, she couldn’t move.
Bacteria had infected her leg; she’d be lucky to keep it. The doctors prepared her for the possibility of amputation.
“I was there for five weeks, and they treated my leg,” she said. “We got through it.”
On Friday, she stood on her leg, not showing any signs of pain.
“It’s very swollen,” she said showing her first signs of weakness. “I shouldn’t be on it.
“I’m lucky to be here.”
A rush to help
It clearly hasn’t been an easy couple of months for the Kimbles. They are still waiting on a trailer from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In the meantime, they are staying with family nearby.
Their home, while flooded, still has its basic structure intact.
Which is something that is rare these days along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
When the Kimbles’ daughter made the first call for help, it was The Valley Responds, a Shenandoah Valley-based group, that was first to answer the plea.
“I was contacted about the same time the Valley was, and before I could even get here, (Valley Responds) was already here,” said LaRue Stephens, the preacher of First Baptist Church in Long Beach.
“(Lynn Kimble) came down to visit to see how things were going and refused to leave,” said Stephens. “She said ‘this is home.’
“This is an elderly couple who, even though their house is in bad shape, and needs a lot of attention, it’s a doable job.”
And most importantly, Stephens said, they can have one family back home in a matter of weeks, not years.
“Where we have a structure, and the family has been displaced, we are doing everything we can to make those homes habitable.”
Rebuilding their home, lives
“By all rights, (Lynn Kimble) should have died. Her condition was that grave,” said Stephens.
And yet, the Kimbles are alive and have something to build from.
While the doors of the home are busted, and belongings are scattered throughout the first floor and lawn of 629 Scenic Drive, there is hope.
“Our house is still here, and we will restore it,” said Kimble. “It’s very old.”
Their clothes are gone, her collectibles were among the first victims of Katrina, their furniture is, in Lynn’s words, “completely wrecked.” And yet, her attitude remains resilient.
“We’ll get back,” she said. “Our children are too cute. They said for Christmas, they will get us new furniture.”
New furniture, a new old home, and a fresh start.
All with the help of volunteers, who in a word, have been “wonderful.”
“I just didn’t know there were so many nice people in this country, but we found out.”