Herald JournalHerald Journal, Sept. 12, 2005

Area native finds relief from hurricane back home

Liz Hellmann
Staff Writer

Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans with wind gusts around 130 miles per hour, but the hardest blow for Craig and Donna Sexton came when they realized they would not be able to return to their home.

“There is a lot of sadness and grief over the loss of our friends, our business, and our home,” Donna said.

Craig is a 1974 graduate of Holy Trinity High School. When it became apparent they would not be able to go back to New Orleans, it just seemed natural to go back to Minnesota.

“We knew we were coming to a place with a lot of support, with my husband’s big family,” Donna said.

The Sextons left New Orleans the Saturday before Katrina hit, when evacuation was still voluntary.

From there, they travelled 180 miles north to Hazelhurst, Miss., to stay with some friends who own several acres of land and five houses.

“They had their own little refugee camp going there, with about 60 people at the peak,” Donna said.

The Sextons fled New Orleans with clothes for only three days.

“We thought we would be able to go home after the storm,” Donna said.

Then, the Sextons started realizing they would not be able to go back home for weeks, and probably months.

“It felt almost like defeat,” Donna said. “You felt like ‘oh, my God,’ this is finally it, the big one that everyone always talked about, but we never thought would happen to us.”

When their friends in Mississippi began to lose water and power, the Sextons decided it was time to come to Minnesota.

Life rolls on

Since arriving in Minnesota, the Sextons have tried to keep life going.

Craig and Donna’s two children, Sean and Kaci, are facing the challenge of starting another school year, only this time they are thousands of miles from home.

With the school they attended last year being under water, they have enrolled in Delano High School, the same school their cousins attend.

Sean, a 14-year-old, will be starting high school for the first time. His sister, Kaci, will enter her senior year without her old friends or familiar faces to greet her.

“Under the circumstances, they are doing quite well,” Craig’s sister, Jackie Zimmerman said.

Donna is optimistic about the new school, in which Kaci and Sean were “met with open arms.”

In addition to helping them keep their education going, the school has collected donations for the family.

“The National Honor Society collected almost $1,000, and the kids got $300 each to shop for clothes,” Donna said.

One senior girl took Kaci to the mall to buy clothes, and a senior boy took Sean to the mall.

Picking up the pieces

Currently, the Sextons are staying at a house in Winsted, which was owned by a family member, but is for sale right now. They plan to stay there until it is sold, or until they can move back to New Orleans.

“We are trying to make the best of our situation,” Donna said. “We are overwhelmed with the generosity of the people in Minnesota.”

The family was given a small allotment of money for clothes and food from the Red Cross in St. Cloud. They can go back each week to get food vouchers.

Home is never far away

Although physically thousands of miles away, the Sextons’ thoughts are not far removed from New Orleans.

Their home and business is located three blocks outside of the French Quarter, which is a higher area in New Orleans, elevation-wise.

Before the storm, the Sextons ran a bed and breakfast called Chez Nous – a business they hope to return to, someday.

Their business, which is also their home, is set three feet above street level, which has hopefully spared it from some damage.

“As far as we know, there is no water damage to the house,” Donna said. “We’ve seen pictures, so we know it is standing.”

As strange as it seems for a home-owner, or business owner to think, the Sextons are hoping there are only some broken windows and shingles.

One day at a time

For now, the Sextons are concentrating on making it one day at a time.

Finding work is proving to be a bit of a challenge for Craig, who is a polysomnographer, and works in sleep medicine.

“He is having a little bit of difficulty, because people are looking for someone who will be able to work for more than just a few months,” Donna said.

While Craig continues to job search, Donna will keep cutting through the red tape and filing the necessary paper work that has resulted from their situation.

For now, the Sextons future plans will depend on the status of the schools in New Orleans.

“We will not return until the schools are open, that is our main priority,” Donna said.

Local ways to help Katrina victims

Below is a list of ways to help victims of Hurricane Katrina in the surrounding area. If anyone knows of other events or ways to contribute within the surrounding communities, call (320) 485-2535 or e-mail news@hjpub.com.

Matching funds for donations collection

What: Citizens State Bank of Waverly will serve as a drop-off site for checks made payable to the American Red Cross or the Salvation Army. The bank will match 50 cents to every dollar donated.

Where: Bank offices in Waverly and Montrose will both serve as drop-off sites.

When: Donations will be accepted between now and Friday, Sept. 30.

For more information, contact Kent Houston (763) 658-4417 ext. 35.

Camp Ripley donation collection

What: Supplies are being organized to distribute to refugees at Camp Ripley. Rep. Dean Urdahl (R - Grove City) is seeking nonperishable food; baby supplies including formula, baby food, and diapers; and new clothing and personal hygiene items including soap, deodorant, combs, shampoo, toothpaste, and toothbrushes.

For more information, and for groups already collecting supplies, but looking for a way to get them to refugees, contact Urdahl (320) 857-2600.

HLWW schools collection

What: Students and staff at Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted schools will be collecting items for those who are coming to Minnesota. Donations are being collected mostly for children, and include; new clothing – socks, sweatshirts, etc.; toys – balls, puzzles, board games, coloring books, playing cards; small blankets; and school supplies – crayons, pencils, pens, notebooks, etc.

When: Donations will be accepted now through Monday, Sept. 26.

If you have any questions, please contact Chris Starr at the high school, castarr@hlww.k12.mn.us or 543-3471 ext. 253

Lester Prairie Garage Sale Day

What: The Lester Prairie Student Council will be collecting check donations made out to the American Red Cross on the sidewalk in front of Angvall Hardware Store during garage sale day hours in Lester Prairie. Its goal is to raise $4,000 in aid. The council will also be collecting a percentage of sale profits from participating garage sales. Sign-up sheets for garage sales that wish to participate will be available at the First Community Bank, Angvall Hardware, and the post office.

One garage sale, located one mile south of Highway 7, at the intersection of Cable Ave. and 190th St. will be collecting dog and cat food for the Hurricane Katrina Furry Friends.

When: Saturday, Sept. 17

For more information, contact Hannah Wortz (320) 395-2703 or Ron Erpenbach (320) 395-2521.

Benefit concert

What: Mayer Lutheran High School is hosting a benefit concert featuring Jim Strehlke, LHS worship team – Joyful Noise, and Pastor Dave Horn. A free-will offering will be taken to help Lutheran schools in the New Orleans area.

Where: Mayer Lutheran Fine Arts Auditorium

When: Sunday, Sept. 18 at 6 p.m.

For more information, contact Sabra Horn (952) 657-2251 ext. 222.

Supplying steel cleaning attachments

What: H H Fabrication and Repair in Winsted is making steel attachments for machinery to aid in the cleaning process in New Orleans. Donations to help cover the cost of parts will be accepted.

For more information, call (320) 485-2341.

Sexton benefit at Blue Note

What: A benefit with food and live music will take place at the Blue Note of Winsted to raise money for the Sexton family, and for a security program in their neighborhood in New Orleans.

When: Friday, Sept. 30

For more information, contact Vicki Sterner (763) 658-4450.

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