Headlines – 9/13/2005

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Panolian: HEADLINES – September 13, 2005

  From the 9/13/05 issue of The Panolian :                    

‘We prayed:’ Father fought river of water to join family
     The Davis family of New Orleans poses for a photo taken by a Freedom Flight pilot Friday morning, September 9, at the Panola County Airport north of Batesville. Husband and wife Jessie and Tonie Davis were separated from children N’Dia, Lucky and Nickolas as the family evacuated the flooded city, and after Jessie survived floodwaters to reach them. Nickolas is still stranded in Ft. Worth, Texas.
By Billy Davis

On Lazardi Street in New Orleans’ 9th Ward, Tonie Davis was packing her family’s belongings as the TV news showed Hurricane Katrina whirling toward Louisiana.

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The date was Sunday, August 28, and the monster storm was expected to rip across her city the next morning.

Davis’s plan was to head for the Ritz Carlton Hotel on Canal Street, where son Nickolas was an employee there in the laundry department.

The hotel management was taking in employees and their families, planning to evacuate them if necessary, and Tonie (pronounced Tanya) Davis had intentions to be among them.

"I’ve seen lots of hurricanes. On TV they’re always yellow in the weather reports," Davis, 38, recalled. "This one was red, and it stretched from the top of Louisiana to the Gulf."

Husband Jessie Davis, 37, was staying in the home, however, despite the pleas of his wife. In the coming hours, he would regret his decision as he fought floodwaters to survive.

"I told Jessie he was like Lott’s wife in the Bible, that he shouldn’t look back and should come with me," the wife said, shaking a finger at her husband last week at the Panola County Airport north of Batesville.

The New Orleans couple had arrived at the airport Friday morning, September 9, to reunite with two of their children, N’Dia (pronounced India), and Lucky.

N’Dia, 11, and Lucky, 7, were set to arrive at 10 a.m. on a Freedom Flight, a charity air transport, that was bringing the children from Ft. Worth, Texas.

The mother said Panola Countians Myra Simmons, Ron and Jan Hood, and Sylvia Hadinger had worked to arrange the free flight from Texas.

After the levees broke and the water poured into New Orleans, a hasty mass evacuation at the Ritz had put N’Dia and Lucky on a bus with older brother Nickolas, 19.

In the frantic evacuation, the father and mother became separated from their three children. The parents knew Nickolas was a responsible young man and would take care of his siblings, and they were able to communicate for a while with cell phones, but what they didn’t know was where their children were going or what was awaiting them when they arrived there.

Tonie and Jessie learned the whereabouts of their children on Wednesday, September 7, and two days later the children were heading east to a Mississippi county where their parents were starting over.

Before the parents were able to reunite with their children, however, Jessie had to reunite with his wife at the hotel on Canal Street.

Jessie Davis said he had eaten breakfast and was cleaning up the home when the floodwaters poured into the 9th Ward, swamping his neighborhood in waters over 12 feet high. It was Monday, August 29.

At the Davis home on Lazardi Street, the water arrived about 6 a.m. with a trickle. Jessie noticed wet carpeting and went to retrieve a towel. When he returned, the water had risen to his knees. In a minute’s time, he was chest deep and fleeing for his life.

The family dog was fleeing for its life, too. Jessie lost his grip on the dog as it fled under the home to hide, one of the first fatalities Jessie would witness in the coming hours.

Jessie hurried to a neighbor’s dry home, where friend Willie Davis (no relation) was cooking a neck bone. The friend had no idea about the rising waters.

"I said, ‘Willie, it’s flooding out here,’ and when he opened the front door the water goes in," Jessie recalled.

The two men fled to the attic where they expected to be safe. Jessie sat with his feet dangling from the opening, watching below as Willie’s belongings floated around the home.

Then Jessie noticed the water lapping at the soles of his shoes, then at his ankles.

Jessie and Willie began tearing apart the attic, knowing they would die there if they didn’t escape to the roof of Willie’s two-story home. Willie began ripping apart the attic vents on the side of the home, hoping to climb up to the roof, while Jessie tore a hole through the roof.

Then Willie spotted a boat floating toward them. Jessie climbed atop the roof, then stretched a leg into the boat, pulling it to him with a foot.

"I promise to you the boat was tied up. I saw it tied up," Jessie later recalled. "I believe God sent that boat to use just when we needed it."

Jessie watched from the roof as the floodwaters swamped his home, covering even the 18-wheeler he relied on for his income as a truck driver.

The waters were also taking all the "stuff" Jessie Davis had stayed behind to protect. The rush of water eventually swept the home downstream.

"I stayed home to protect all of my things, and they almost got me killed," the husband and father said.
After drifting away from Willie’s home, Jessie and Willie tied up the boat at Nickolas’s home on the next block, where they rescued neighbors who were trapped in their homes by water that lapped at their roofs.

Jessie witnessed as a neighbor put his girlfriend in the top of a tree, knowing there was room only for her.

"He would go down and come up, and after about the third time he didn’t come up again," Jessie said.

Jessie, Willie and their neighbors spent Monday night and most of Tuesday in the boat. They had nothing to eat and nothing to drink.

Louisiana wildlife officers discovered the stranded neighbors Tuesday and later dumped Jessie, Willie and friend Aheem on dry land.

"They told us to walk to the Superdome, but I told Willie we weren’t going that way," Jessie said. "It just didn’t feel right. It sounded like trouble to me, so we went the other direction."

Now on dry land, the trio went into stores among a scene of wild looting.

While people around them grabbed electronics and high-price items, Jessie said he came out with dry clothes, Willie had picked out a pair of tennis shoes (he had been barefoot), and all three had grabbed up food, water and juice.

While chaos reigned around them, the three men cautiously ate and drank, hiding the water from view.

The trio continued walking, arriving on Canal Street and at the Ritz Hotel about 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

Tonie Davis is both relieved to have her husband by her side and still angry at the lesson he learned.

"I said everything I could to get him to come with me, but he stayed behind for material things," the wife said Friday as she waited for her children at the airport.

Jessie said he learned his lesson, showing the scratches on his left arm he received in the midst of the two-day struggle in the floodwaters. Two of the scratches, he showed, form a cross.

"At night, when we were stuck in the boat, all you could do was look up at the pretty sky toward God," Jessie said. "We held hands a lot and prayed. A life jacket was good, but faith is what saved you."

N’Dia and Lucky arrived Friday in a Cessna 310, a compact two-prop plane.

The plane touched down at 10:20 a.m. after a non-stop flight.

N’Dia said her ears were popping after the trip, her first airplane ride.

The 11-year-old said she and her brothers stayed at the Renaissance Worthington Hotel in Ft. Worth, where many New Orleanians were staying.

Before the flood, Nickolas was set to marry his sweetheart, Ari Bedou, on September 2 in New Orleans. The couple instead exchanged vows in a brief ceremony at the Renaissance.

A Ft. Worth police chaplain had presided over the ceremony.

N’Dia brought a pair of wedding snapshots, and her mother studied the photos that showed her oldest child being married without her there.

"We had picked out the tuxedos and had everything ready," she said.

Tonie and Jessie Davis hugged the Freedom Flight pilots, and the wife and mother handed them thank-you cards for their work.

Then the family loaded into a van.

The next stop, Tonie said, was a trip to register N’Dia and Lucky for school in South Panola.

Two jump in NP school board race
By Jason C. Mattox

Two races in Panola County on the November 8 ballot will be contested, while one candidate faces no competition.

According to Circuit Clerk Joe Reid, three candidates have qualified to seek the district three seat on the North Panola School District Board of Trustees.

Jenette Jackson and Tracy Thompson will challenge incumbent Mack Taylor Jr. for the position.

In the South Panola School District, Dr. Carlock Broome is unopposed in a run for his first elected term since he was appointed by the board of trustees to fill the unexpired term of the retired James Hal Moore.

In the hottest race on the ballot, 11 candidates will face off for the office of Panola County Sheriff.

Those qualified to run include: Noel Aldridge Jr., Hugh W. "Shot" Bright, Steve Chancellor, Antonio Daniels, John Hardy, John Rodgers, Craig Sheley, Kelvin Taylor, Jamie Tedford, Gary Thompson and Mark Whitten.

If no one candidate receives a majority of the votes cast, the top two vote-getters will meet in a run-off election November 22.

The sheriff’s election is being held to fill the unexpired term of the late Sheriff David Bryan.

Tickets available for Sav-A-Life banquet
By Billy Davis

A banquet will benefit the Sav-A-Life pregnancy counseling center in Batesville on Thursday, September 22, at 6:30 p.m. at the Batesville National Guard Armory.

Everyone is invited to the fourth annual "Fearfully and Wonderfully Made" Banquet.

Reservations are required. There is no charge for the tickets; however, a donation will be taken at the dinner.

To reserve a ticket, call 578-2277, or email savalife@watervalley.net

Guest speakers and entertainers for the banquet will be the Fortune Family of Toomsboro, Ga. The musical family includes Terry and Lynn Fortune and their eight children.

Donations to Sav-A-Life are tax-deductible.

Sav-A-Life is located at 296 Eureka St., Batesville.


Hundreds beckon at ‘help me’ call
By Rupert Howell

When Bob Shepard heard the words, "You’ve got to help me," he was gone.

Those words came from a Gulfport friend and it made Hurricane Katrina personal.

Those who have made mercy missions to the Gulf Coast to the most severely ravaged area of Katrina’s path have a distinct look about them when they return. Some well up with wet eyes, and others want you to know just how bad people are hurting now and about the immediate needs they have.

Warner McBride’s mission is also personal. His father-in-law’s life was taken when Katrina came ashore. McBride’s wife, Phyllis, was not mad at the hurricane. Her wrath was focused on the high price of gasoline and basic necessities needed by folks from her hometown area in and around Harrison County.

That need is being filled and the McBride group is helping with the recovery and sharing some of the relief items trucked from here and elsewhere to other families in the area.

Not only did Phyllis lose her father in the storm, two of her brothers lost homes as did her nephew. Her father’s home was also destroyed and two family members lost businesses. Her father, Horace Necaise Jr., is to be buried today in Hancock County.

McBride, who serves as state representative of District 11, says a lot is going on that he is unaware of since he has been busy working with assisting his in-laws with restoring some normalcy to their community.

"The federal government is going to have to step up," he said adding, "There are some things we can do. . . such as issuing bonds."

Aid and assistance is also coming from all parts of the country, with much of it funneling down I-55 as witnessed by the number of military convoys and other traffic southbound. Many are stopping at local eateries and fuel stations.

One group, Memorial Road Church of Christ from Oklahoma, stopped and had a late lunch at Batesville Church of Christ with local church ladies preparing the meal.

The group of 63 was led by former Batesville resident Woody Loden IV, who called upon his parents, Woody and Patsy Loden of Batesville, to help organize feeding the volunteers on their way to Ocean Springs where they will assist in the cleanup and recovery effort.

That group was equipped with backhoes, tractors and other items to assist with the cleanup.

South Panola High School senior Ann Rhodes was another volunteer who went with the Steve Lanices Composite Sqd. of the Civil Air Patrol headquartered in Oxford to assist with the recovery effort.

That unit searched for planes whose emergency locating devices had been triggered due to the high winds and destruction. Rhodes explained that many of the aircraft were parked in damaged hangars during the storm but that the warning devices needed to be disabled so that aircraft that actually might have crashed during the storm could be located.

The Civil Air Patrol team also searched for missing members from the south Mississippi area.

Some members of the Cosby family from the Eureka Community joined the McBrides with heavy equipment to help the Hancock County community get stable.

A Baptist "chainsaw crew" returned over the weekend following a week of assistance to the Gulf Coast area.

Many other local groups from government agencies, churches, utility companies and everyday volunteers have headed south to assist with the recovery effort. Some local residents have offered lodging in their homes or rental property to evacuees, while others are housing children of friends and relatives in the affected area so that they may enroll in school.

While everyone seems to have either family, close friends or both in the affected areas, not everyone can offer physical assistance. That is where the donations of supplies and money are needed.

Many of the items needed are just basic food and hygiene items, it appears that fuel is also high on everbody’s list.

As Red Cross and FEMA work through their systems of distribution, it appears that those who know the affected areas and people there are the ones getting these necessities to the storm victims that are presently in greatest and most immediate need.
Whether it’s fuel for the fire department in Biloxi to run the generators that power their communication equipment, or donated bicycles for firemen to get about their area to assist citizens in need, these people seemed to get aid where its needed.

Shepard also added tire patch and plug kits are needed as all vehicles, including emergency type, are hampered by roofing nails that are strewn about the Gulf Coast’s debris.

McBride added to the list: over-the-counter medical supplies, water, non-perishable food items, canned goods, juices, bread, bleach and gasoline in small plastic containers.

Green’s bond set at $100 thousand
By Billy Davis

Murder suspect Johnny Green is out on bail after Circuit Judge Andrew C. Baker reduced the defendant’s $1 million bond to $100,000.

Green’s attorney, Tony Farese, had requested a hearing almost immediately after Justice Court Judge James Appleton set the bond at $1 million at an August 2 preliminary hearing.

Green, 59, is accused of gunning down bail client Ricky Taylor Jr., 33, in the early-morning hours of July 23.

The bond hearing was held Friday afternoon at the county courthouse in Sardis, where Farese requested a $50,000 bond for his client.

Green had bonded out of jail by 5 p.m. on Friday. His case has not been presented to a grand jury, but he had been behind bars since July 23.

Baker set the new bond with restrictions that Green have no contact with the Taylor family and not perform his duties as a licensed bail bondsman.

Baker ruled on the lower bond over the objection of Assistant District Attorney Robert Kelly and testimony from Taylor’s family, including his mother, father and an aunt.

Sardis resident Kathy Myers also testified for the prosecution, saying that Green once kicked in the door to her home at one o’clock in the morning.

Myers said Green came to her home last December looking for her son, Terry, who owed him bail money. He had cut off the electricity to the home and burst in waving a pistol.

In cross-examination, Farese didn’t dispute Myers’ claim, instead noting that Green was a "licensed bond agent" and her son had not paid bond money promised to Green.

After Farese finished, Kelly asked the witness, "Ms. Myers, has anybody else ever kicked in your back door?"

"No sir," Myers replied.

In closing arguments, Kelly told Baker that Green had a reputation for being reckless and dangerous, also saying the defendant had admitted to killing Taylor in a jailhouse interview.

"Those who know Johnny Green best include the local justice court judge," Kelly said.

Farese argued, however, that the $1 million bond is "tantamount to no bail at all," noting that state law prohibits excessively high bond even for a murder case.

Farese also suggested that Appleton was too inexperienced to rule on the bond or perhaps didn’t understand the law.

"With all due respect to Mr. Appleton, the justice court judge has no legal background," Farese said. "All you need is a high school education."

Baker said he was troubled by Green’s past behavior but was obligated by law to allow the defendant a fair bond.

Morris readies for Katrina report
By Billy Davis

Rep. Leonard Morris of Batesville will be among state legislators meeting this week in Jackson to plot and plan the state’s ongoing reaction to Hurricane Katrina’s devastation.

Morris serves as chairman of the House Medicaid Committee and will report Thursday how that committee can aid the state’s citizens after Katrina.

One need is to better streamline the three-to-four-month application process for a quicker "turnaround time," Morris said last week.

The legislature as a whole will examine Katrina’s impact on the state’s budget, including its impact on Medicaid, Morris also said.

The chairmen of House and Senate committees met in recent days to discuss their next step and, at that meeting, learned from their leaders that their reports were due this week.

Morris said state officials summarized Katrina’s effect as such: 15,000 coastal residents are living in shelters and another 10,000 are living with family members away from the coast.

In Hancock County, 40 of 50 sheriff’s department cruisers were underwater and all 24 sheriff’s deputies lost their homes.

Only 24,000 of 400,000 homes in Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties were covered with flood insurance, the legislators learned.

Further inland, excluding those three coastal counties, Katrina damaged or destroyed 800 businesses and 26,000 homes.

The state is reacting with a variety of initiatives, Morris said, including an "adopt a city" campaign for communities devastated by Katrina, increased payments from FEMA, a scholarship program for coastal high school seniors, and the opening of consumer protection offices on the coast.

Gov. Haley Barbour has launched a relief fund and named Netscape founder Jim Barksdale as its chairman.

"This is a monumental task, but the legislature is committed to do its part to help," Morris said. "The effort is bi-partisan and bi-racial, and we’re working together to get this done."

Community Center used as distribution point for hurricane victim supplies
By Myra Bean

The hurricane victims in the surrounding area are not forgotten.

The Macedonia-Concord Community Center, 8302 Curtis Road, Batesville has been opened as a distribution center for supplies for victims in need.

The center got a big boost from the people of South Bend, Ind. and the state of Michigan when a tractor/trailer full of supplies arrived Monday afternoon.

More than 50 volunteers in the Macedonia and Concord communities in Panola County arrived at the center to help unload the hundreds of boxes brought this way.

Tim Bell of South Bend and his wife Tamela drove the truck over 16 hours with their goodies in tow.

Bell said the Lord laid it on his heart to help do something for the victims. He got with his boss at Risinger Transport, along with Chilli Truck Leasing and Kingsman, who donated the rigs and the use of 14 trailers to get the supplies out to victims.

"We wanted to let the victims know we care and they are not alone," Bell said.

Four loads went to New Orleans, via the American Red Cross, according to Bell.

Bell got the word out also through his ministry and WUBS radio station, 89.7 in South Bend.

They also raised $32,000 for fuel to help get the supplies to Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana.

"People came out and labored in love," Bell said. "They marked the boxes. We said ‘with God we can do this.’ God pulled us together like pieces of a puzzle."

Inside the boxes were taped pieces of paper which said "Our hearts and prayers are with you."

They rolled seven trailers out last Friday and Saturday and more were ready when he got back to South Bend Tuesday.

Coordinating efforts in Panola County were Second Concord M.B. Church pastor Rev. James Bownes Jr. and his wife Ruby.

"We are preparing for the long term not just for short term," Bownes said.

Also in attendance to help unload the truck was Alvin Brooks of Biloxi who said he lost everything. He stayed in Biloxi seven days before he could make his way here. His relatives include the Miller and Green families.

The center is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. not only for distribution but for the collection of non-perishable goods for the hurricane victims.

Anyone who has needs is welcome to come by or call (662) 563-5253.

The local ministers will meet Saturday, September 10, at the Sardis Educational Building to strategize for meeting the long term needs of victims. All pastors are encouraged to attend the 10 a.m. meeting, said Macedonia pastor Rev. Zannie Leland.

Also, a fish fry and fun day for the hurricane victims will be held at the Macedonia/Concord Community Center beginning at noon. Transportation will be provided. Call one of these numbers if you need transportation: (662) 563-5253, (662) 654-1562 or (662) 609-2456.



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