Florida woman keeps Mississippi home as hurricane shelter

Florida woman keeps Mississippi home as hurricane shelter

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - This house may seem like any other in the Chapel Hill Subdivision in Lamar County.

According to the owner, Kim LeDuff, this home holds a story of her family's survival and refuge. 

"I always joke that I moved to Mississippi to be closer to family, because I am originally from New Orleans, but I had no idea my entire family would move in with me," said LeDuff.

In 2005,Kim began her new position as a broadcast journalism professor at the University of Southern Mississippi. 

" I moved to Hattiesburg two weeks prior to Katrina actually hitting," said LeDuff.
She said at that time, she lived in a two bedroom apartment in Hattiesburg. She said she didn't worry much about waiting out the storm, or her family needing to evacuate from their home in New Orleans East. Then her uncle changed that. 

"He had cancer," said LeDuff. "My mom begged my dad to evacuate, you know, she said to get him out of the city because if anything were to happen we wanted to be able to have him get medical care."

Right before Katrina made landfall, Kim's Uncle and up to ten members of the LeDuff family, ages 1 to 89 filled her two bedroom apartment for two months. 

"Every family had a room, including the living room and the dining room."

But her mother, Lynette, stayed in New Orleans for hurricane duty at the children's hospital. 

"We did fine until the water really started rising," said Lynette. 

Lynette said that is when the hospital planned a caravan evacuation, but the unrest in New Orleans, near the levees, made the drive out of the city dangerous.

"I mean, they were actually shooting at cars to try to take the cars away," said Lynette.

Lynette reminisced when she went from enduring a hurricane and gunfire to receiving the embrace of strangers once she made it to the Hub City. 

"We went to the grocery one day and the lady when she was checking us out recognized our New Orleans accent," said Lynette. "She asked us if we were there after the hurricane, and we told her yes. So she came around the counter and she said, I just want to give you a hug.'" 

Lynette's husband, Kenneth, said her elderly father was standing outside of Walmart and experienced amazing kindness from residents. 

"Four different ladies stopped and asked him, 'sir, are you ok? do you need a ride home?' It was truly amazing because that would have never happened in New Orleans," said Kenneth. 

The LeDuff family said seeking shelter in a city with that much compassion and support eased the heartbreak of losing everything, and it made Kim's decision to buy this home a no-brainer. This home is now the family's hurricane shelter. 

"We have used it for a hurricane shelter for two others, I think Gustav and I can't remember the other," said LeDuff. 

She no longer lives here, but she said she will never sell the home.

Ten years later, the family realizes the times spent here seeking shelter from hurricanes gave them precious memories with loved ones who are now gone, like Kim's Uncle and Grandfather. Now the family comes to this house for a different kind of retreat.

"I call and I say,'Kim, I need a break, can I come visit this weekend?" said Lynette. 

The Hub City Mardi Gras parade provides some NOLA comfort. 

"We've been coming up here for going on three years now," said Kenneth.