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Published: Tuesday, 9/6/2005

Displaced seniors seek solace in shelters

BY GEORGE J. TANBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

OCEAN SPRINGS, Miss. His name is Jock Wayne, but he s always been known as Two Bags.

On Aug. 29, Hurricane Katrina leveled Biloxi. By then, Mr. Wayne was down to one bag and sleeping on a mattress at a nearby shelter.

On Wednesday, he moved into his sister s apartment in Ocean Springs, which was not as badly damaged as Biloxi even though they are just a few miles apart.

Sunday morning, Mr. Wayne walked a few blocks from his sister s apartment to a point where he could gaze across Biloxi Bay to his native city, where he had returned to five years ago after reconnecting with five childhood friends.

A severe case of arthritis requires that he use a cane. He also is hampered by a bad heart.

He wore his customary all-black outfit the only clothes he still owns save for a white cap that matched hair and a beard of the same color.

Jock Wayne, 72, at the edge of Biloxi Bay in Ocean Springs, Miss., tries to get a glimpse of his storm-damaged apartment. Jock Wayne, 72, at the edge of Biloxi Bay in Ocean Springs, Miss., tries to get a glimpse of his storm-damaged apartment.
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From that distance, it was difficult to gauge the effect of Katrina on Biloxi, where hundreds have died and nearly every building is damaged or destroyed. You could see the Grand Casino tipped onto its side. Another casino, Isle of Capri, one of nine in the city, was missing from the cityscape and is presumed lost at sea.

In the two years after Mr. Wayne moved to Biloxi, all of his childhood friends died. But, surprisingly, he found comfort being rooted in an apartment that overlooked the gulf and enjoying the company of the other residents at Santa Maria del Mar.

That life has been shattered by Katrina not only for Mr. Wayne, who is 72, but for thousands of other displaced Gulf Coast seniors. Some are without their medications, some are disoriented and depressed, and certainly most of them, Mr. Wayne says, are traumatized by having to leave their homes.

A lot of those older people have not processed this, said Mr. Wayne, who retains a nimble mind.

The day before the storm, Mr. Wayne said good-bye to his friends and boarded a Catholic Diocese of Biloxi bus for a shelter in D Iberville, north of Biloxi. There, he watched his fellow seniors struggle. A man in a wheelchair fell out and into his own urine. Another senior died and was bundled up in a plastic bag and kept at the shelter until he could be carried away.

They did the best they could; they were just overwhelmed, he said.

And then there was the couple who slept by his side the husband a frail man, the wife suffering from Alzheimer s.

She d tap me on the knee and say, Bernard, Bernard, Mr. Wayne said. They were a very sweet [couple].

Mr. Wayne s Bernard turned out to be Bernard Aronstam. He and his wife, Olive, were moved from D Iberville to the Gulfport High School shelter a few days ago. Yesterday Mr. Aronstam frantically searched for information on New Orleans. He and his wife reluctantly left on Sunday.

I d go home any way I can. Plane, train, bus, car, he said.

Mr. Wayne s assessment of the couple was correct. Mrs. Aronstam, 82, hugged everyone who came near and called them darling, while Mr. Aronstam, 72, though frail and desperate, was exceedingly polite and protective of his ailing wife of 42 years.

He recalled how they moved 28 years ago from their native South Africa to New Orleans, where he became an attorney for the National Labor Relations Board. He also said with a sweet, sad smile that his only kin is a stepson who lives in South Africa who has no idea where his parents are.

Nearby, Helyn Joyce was in a celebratory mood. Judy Miller, a health-care worker, rescued Ms. Joyce s cat, Tristen, on Sunday from, of all places, Santa Maria del Mar Mr. Wayne s complex. Told Mr. Wayne was safe, Ms. Joyce was elated.

I like him; he s a nice guy, she said.

A Connecticut native and longtime resident of Las Vegas, Ms. Joyce moved to Biloxi from New Orleans eight years ago after her fiance died and she had heart surgery.

Despite the shelter s crowded and somewhat chaotic condition, Ms. Joyce wore her make-up and had one of the tidiest floor mattresses in the place.

Like the Aronstams, Ms. Joyce has a single living relative a daughter living in South Dakota whom she has not contacted. She didn t seem to mind. Asked what she s doing next, Ms. Joyce said with Yankee vigor: I m going back to Las Vegas.

After Katrina all people end up equal.

While the storm blew, Marie Wals, 92, of Gulfport cooked a hamburger and a couple of eggs in the cinder block shanty where she has lived alone since her husband died eight years ago.

The storm felled a towering cedar tree, which just missed her house, shredded the home next door, and chased everyone else in the neighborhood away.

Except for Mrs. Wals.

I just sat there and drank my coffee, she said yesterday afternoon, in a wheelchair on her front porch.

In the eight days since the storm, Mrs. Wals had yet to leave her home, which somehow remained dry.

Friends and neighbors tried to get her to depart before and after Katrina, she refused.

So stalwart is Mrs. Wals that one day last week she wheeled herself into her front yard and gathered up a pile of debris with a rake missing half its tines.

Explaining the source of her strength in surviving Katrina, she said: I live by the Bible, not by man. I sat back there eating [during the storm] and the Main Man he s the reason I m here.

Her two sons are dead, an adopted son is in prison, and a grandson who lives near has yet to come by. But it doesn t appear to bother Mrs. Wals.

What can I do? she asked.

It does disturb a friend of hers, Shirley Cunningham.

It hurts me to see older people like that. Ain t no way I d leave my Mama like that.

Contact George Tanber at gtanber@theblade.com or 734-241-3610.



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