Mississippians start over in Craig

Family lost everything but a few clothes to Hurricane Katrina

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Lacey Sipsey, 18, didn't meet her 37-year-old brother until a Category 5 hurricane drove her to his doorstep.

She arrived in Craig on Oct. 8 with her parents and her fiance after they heard their home had been completely destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

"We had no other place to go," Lacey's mother, Patricia, said.

The family loaded their car with clothes -- "Mississippi clothes," Lacey said about the shorts and thin shirts they had -- and some essential papers and fled the leading edge of the hurricane. They got to Vicksburg, which is 270 miles north of Bay St. Louis, Miss., where they had motel reservations. The four spent the first night in the car and were able to get into their motel room the second night.

Lacey said after power went out in the hotel, many of the guests entertained themselves watching the hotel's sign swing back and forth in the wind.

"I didn't think anything was entertaining," Patricia said.

They managed a call to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, who told them the house they'd been renting had been destroyed and to not return.

The house was just a few blocks from the ocean.

The four headed to Colorado. Craig resident James Sipsey hadn't seen his mother and stepfather for more than 18 years and had never met his sister.

"Something always came up," Patricia said. "The years just slipped by."

She said any time a visit was planned, something happened to cancel it. In this case, there was nothing to keep them away, and there was every reason to leave.

Now, seven people live in James' three-bedroom house -- none quite sure what the future holds.

"At this moment, we don't have any plans at all," Patricia said. "We're still in shock. We're not sure what to do yet."

Patricia had a well-paid job as a dealer in a casino and her husband is retired.

"It's hard to go from being totally self-sufficient one day to having nothing the next," she said.

When they arrived in Craig, the family visited the Red Cross and social services. No one could help them, and Patricia said they would have felt bad about accepting it anyway.

"It's hard to put yourself in a place where you're asking for help because you feel like you're taking away from those who really need it," she said.

They brought very little with them.

Lacey's fiance, Paul Houston, left his Blazer. At one point, he heard that it was covered in water. Once the water receded, he heard that someone had broken out a window and was living in it.

FEMA -- whose inspectors told the Sipseys their house no longer existed -- mailed information about assistance programs to their Mississippi home.

Surprisingly the mailbox was still standing, and Houston's family picked up the information and will forward it to Colorado.

Whole lives were changed after the hurricane hit. Patricia said the family lost family pictures, the baby book her husband's grandmother had just given him, Lacey's academic certificates and awards and her high school diploma.

"It was a lifetime of memories," James said.

Patricia said it's overwhelming thinking about what they lost.

"Every day you think of different things," she said. "We didn't just lose things, we lost a whole town. Friends and people we worked with. Some of them, you don't know if they're dead or alive."

Patricia said she and her husband used to pack as much as they could when hurricane warnings came.

"The last few years we stopped because it wasn't going to happen," she said.

Lacey had enrolled in a community college, where she wanted to study law. The week after Hurricane Katrina hit should have been her first week of classes.

"She lost her whole life," Patricia said.

"I was so mad," Lacey said. "I had my whole life planned out."

She said she wants to return to Mississippi someday.

"It's home," she said.

Three weeks after arriving in Craig, the evacuees have found an apartment. Having no jobs and no references made it difficult, Patricia said.

They'll move into Columbine Apartments with the same things they left Mississippi with -- clothes, papers and a pair of scissors.

Staff members at Horizons Specialized Services where James and his wife both work, took up a cash collection, which they gave to the family to buy food.

"It's hard having seven people in a house," Patricia said.

Community Budget Center Director Karen Brown said she has given the family coats and some clothing and invited them back for kitchen utensils and other household items when they knew where they were going.

Their biggest need is furniture, but they're also without money, much clothing and household items.

Red Cross caseworker Sandi Beran is working with another family that came to Moffat County from a hurricane-hit area. They're living with family now, but it's crowded, Beran said. The couple has five children. She's helping them, but she said their biggest need is housing.

They, too, left with nothing.

Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 210, or ccurrie@craigdailypress.com.

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