"The live oaks saved the house," says Melanie Walrod matter-of-factly. She nods toward one of the massive trees surrounding her family's home. "Their leaves and branches deflected Katrina's winds, so we lost only a few roof shingles. Our damage was nothing compared to what others lost." Fifty feet tall and as much as 12 feet around, the five native live oaks form a protective circle around the house.
Melanie is talking on a sweltering morning in May. Around her, the Walrod family's garden in Delisle, Mississippi, is awash in the colors of verbena and late blooming azaleas. And it's vibrating with the sounds of bluebirds, bees, and three young children playing. Wherever you look, you can see all that John Walrod has done since he bought the 15-acre property in 1989. There is a Japanese and a moss garden, a large vegetable plot, a bog garden, beehives, a chicken coop, an arbor for muscadine grapes, and an orchard of 10 fruit trees.
This beautiful scene is not necessarily what you would have expected to find here this spring. That's because, last August 30, Walrod and his family had to board up their house, tie down whatever could be tied down, and drive to John's parents house in Arkansas to get out of the path of Hurricane Katrina. Delisle lay in the path of the storm's eastern eyewall-where winds averaged 135 m.p.h. and gusted up to 153. Neighbors who rode out the storm told John that seven tornadoes passed through their properties. Ten miles south, in Pass Christian, the ocean rose 30 feet over the coast, obliterating almost everything.
The flood stopped three blocks from the Walrods' house. Returning home two days later on roads blocked by debris and downed power lines, they were relieved at what they saw. Trees blocked their driveway, the shed had lost its roof, and the electricity was out, but the house, the chickens and their coop, and the beehives were safe.