Clarke County Democrat

Katrina refugees made it a point to return to the town that befriended and sheltered them in 2005 Hurricane Katrina struck 15 years ago last week




Betty Weinberger with her parents, Genie and Elbert Vix when they visited Grove Hill in 2010, the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The Vixes had come annually since the 2005 storm but this was likely their last trip.

Betty Weinberger with her parents, Genie and Elbert Vix when they visited Grove Hill in 2010, the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The Vixes had come annually since the 2005 storm but this was likely their last trip.

For several years after Hurricane Katrina struck along the Louisiana-Mississippi border on Aug. 29, 2005, 15 years ago last week, an elderly couple from Pass Christian, Miss. would make an annual pilgrimage to Grove Hill to remember the town that offered them shelter and friendship when they fled the storm.

Elbert and Genie Vix were both in their 80s but faithfully made the trip for at least five years. Elbert Vix would laugh each time he departed and say something like, “When I don’t show up one year, you’ll know I’ve moved on.”

2010, the fifth anniversary of the storm, is the last year The Democrat has on record of the Vixes visiting. Their daughter, Betty Weinberger, whose family was also Katrina refugees to Grove Hill, was with them on that trip. Genie Vix was already suffering from Alzheimer’s.

Elbert Vix would pass away March 15, 2012 at the age of 85. Genie, her proper name was Georgine, died Jan. 18, 2015. She was 87.

The Vixes had a waterfront home in Pass Christian that was wiped clean to the foundation by Katrina. They also maintained an apartment in New Orleans. It was not harmed by the storm. The Weinbergers were from Metairie, a suburb of New Orleans.

Hurricane Katrina swept the Vixes’ Pass Christian, Miss. home away, down to its foundation but they rebuilt and on one of their visits proudly showed their Grove Hill friends pictures of their new home.

Hurricane Katrina swept the Vixes’ Pass Christian, Miss. home away, down to its foundation but they rebuilt and on one of their visits proudly showed their Grove Hill friends pictures of their new home.

Like many, the Vixes and Weinbergers fled when the monster storm eyeballed their stretch of the coast. They started driving northward and ended up at the Windwood Inn in Grove Hill.

Elbert and Genie would remain at the motel for several weeks. Betty and David Weinberger and their children, Allen and Jordan would eventually rent a house and stay in the area for a good while. Jordan attended school at Jackson Academy.

The families were Episcopalians and would attend church at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Jackson while living in the county. The Vixes often attended church services when they came back each year.

Although the Vixes lost their home, antiques and other family heirlooms to Katrina, they were never bitter, just happy to be alive and happy to have found Grove Hill. Genie Vix had lots of family on the coast and lost a brotherin law to the storm. She considered it a miracle that there was only one fatality in the extended family.

 

 

Elbert Vix had a good sense of humor and would laugh about the losses. “I told our daughters that maybe it was a way of taking care of things so they wouldn’t fuss over the estate when we are gone.”

The families were smitten with Grove Hill and the hospitality and kindnesses of its citizens. Betty Weinberger wrote a thank you letter and called Grove Hill “a Norman Rockwellian town.”

In the letter she mentioned “Mrs. Carol” at the Windwood Inn, the staff at The Clarke County Democrat across the street from the motel where she was able to use the computers for emailing family and friends, Allen Jordan and everyone at The Medicine Chest and Gloria Newton at Gloria’s Pour House Café. Friends in Jackson made Jordan’s transition to a new school easier, she said.

In 2007, on the second anniversary of Katrina, Elbert Vix admitted that he had not quite known how to accept the charity offered to his family. He said he initially protested that he had income and resources and the charity would be better going to those who needed it. Looking back, he said he understood that people only wanted to help and he said he was appreciative.

He did express amazement that people flocked to the coast to help with cleanup and rebuilding after Katrina. “I don’t know if my generation would have gone somewhere and worked without compensation for weeks like that. We would have said we had jobs to be at and families to take care of,” he reasoned.

On the 2007 visit, the Vixes excitedly showed The Democrat staff pictures of their new two-story home in Pass Christian, built by a son-in-law, a New Orleans contractor.

Hurricane Katrina was a Category 5 storm as it approached the Mississippi Gulf Coast. It lessened only slightly to a Category 3 storm, with winds of around 140 mph, as it tore into the Louisiana-Mississippi border. Bay St. Louis and Pass Christian, Miss. were virtually wiped out. In New Orleans, the levees were breached and the city was flooded. New Orleans went for days without a lot of help or assistance from the federal government. More than 15,000 refugees crowed in the Superdome, which had no power. Food and drinking water were scarce. Eventually, 34,000 people would be rescued in the city.

Katrina killed more than 1,800 people and caused $125 billion in property damages.

Clarke County was on the edge of the storm’s winds and did not suffer extensive damage although there was some timber damage in the western part of the county. Just to the west, in Choctaw County and into the edge of Mississippi, damages were much worse.

On one of their last trips to Grove Hill, as they prepared to depart Elbert Vix offered firm handshakes at The Democrat office as Genie embraced everyone with warm hugs. They promised they’d be back the next year.

“There’s only one way I won’t be back,” Vix joked as they drove off.

That “one way” eventually happened but every August when the meteorologists remind us of Katrina’s anniversary, Grove Hillians fondly remember the Vixes love for the town.

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