Waveland P.D.'s survival of Hurricane Katrina & progress - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Waveland P.D.'s survival of Hurricane Katrina & progress 5 years later

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By Howard Ballou - bio | email

As the worst natural disaster in American history, Hurricane Katrina, roared into the Mississippi Gulf Coast, many first responders had to save themselves before they could save others.

 "My husband was with Bay Police and had to find out I was hanging onto a bush," Waveland Police Department, Investigator Laura Stepro explained.

The memory is fresh for Waveland Police Investigator Laura Stepro and Sgt. Theresa Beeson.

"Rode out the storm in the back of a truck, me and Denise did, yeah, it was a big dodge truck and she was the Baptist and I was the Catholic and honey we kept it going, between my hail Mary's and her Holy Lord Jesus," Waveland Police Department, Sgt. Theresa Beeson added.

All 27 members of the Waveland Police Department rode out the storm, 12 on the Department's rooftop, two in the back of a pickup truck and, miraculously, 13 holding onto this red top bush.

"Nightmares, yes, many, many, recurring nightmares, you know. I talk to a lot of people and it all seems to be the same, you know, it was just an act of God that nobody can explain," said Chief James Varnell, Waveland Police Department.

Chief Varnell and his department spent three years after Katrina, working out of a trailer and a camper, until they moved into this new complex. It serves as a temporary base for several Waveland City government offices. After 5 years, work has finally begun on the new Waveland Police headquarters.

"This is where the new Waveland Police Department is being built. It's on McLaurin Street and as you can see, it's on higher ground and there's better drainage."

The old Waveland Police Department building is now just a vacant lot filled with memories.

As for that bush that saved so many first responder lives on that terrifying day in 2005, well, it's still here and it will likely stay here. That's because horticulture experts say to move it could, possibly, kill it.

Unfortunately, there is a pumping station underneath the vaunted bush.

"Actually the pumping station was there before the bush and it is so entangled in all that, that a horticulturist said most probably moving it would be detrimental to it, so what we hope to do is get some cuttings and plant plenty more bushes of that type," Chief Varnell added.

And hope that those bushes will never have to be used like they were that August morning in 2005 for seven incredibly horrifying hours.

"I don't think anybody was prepared for this, you know, as far as federal government, state government, but everybody got together and did what had to be done so, we're very fortunate that we didn't have a lot of lost life and we're very thankful for that."

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