Katrina hits close to home for Willoughby

Thursday, September 1, 2005

The Southeast basketball player's immediate family left Biloxi, Miss., for Tallahassee, Fla., before the storm.

Terrick Willoughby could only watch in horror the televised news reports that revealed the death and destruction in Biloxi, Miss., courtesy of Hurricane Katrina.

"It was just devastating to see the pictures on TV," said Willoughby, a junior guard on Southeast Missouri State's basketball team who grew up in Biloxi. "I can't even imagine what it would be like to be down there."

While Willoughby felt plenty of sadness for the loved ones of the more than 100 people believed to have died in the Biloxi area, he also was relieved that his family was able to leave the city in time.

Willoughby's mother, his brother, and his brother's wife and child are staying with another of Willoughby's brothers in Tallahassee, Fla.

"They barely got out, but they got out," Willoughby said. "I've been able to talk to them a lot, which is good."

While Willoughby's family is safe and sound, many of their personal belongings are not.

Willoughby said the waterfront apartment where his mother lived is believed to be wiped out, along with the waterfront floral shop she operated.

Willoughby said his brother's home, which was further away from the waterfront, is believed to have not suffered extensive damage. But his brother worked at one of the several waterfront casinos in Biloxi -- and those suffered extensive damage.

"From the location where my mom lived, I'm sure that's wiped out. It has to be. And the shop, too," said Willoughby, whose father lives in Illinois. "And my brother's job will pretty much be wiped out. They both talked about starting over. You almost have to."

But, added Willoughby: "Belongings, jobs -- they can replace those. The main thing you think about is that they're OK. Their life is the main thing. When you have a natural disaster like that, it's about the family, not belongings."

Willoughby said many other relatives, including grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins, live in New Orleans, which Katrina inflicted with massive destruction. Fortunately, he said all of them also appear to have survived.

Still, Willoughby shuddered to think about all the people who have lost their lives in the natural disaster. Many perished at the Quiet Water Beach apartments in Biloxi, believed to represent one of the biggest known clusters of deaths caused by Katrina.

"It's just devastating to know that people in those apartments didn't have a chance to survive," Willoughby said. "I was thinking that I probably knew some of those people. It's unbelievable."

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