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Video: Katrina family's survival story

By Brian Williams Anchor & “Nightly News” managing editor
NBC News
updated 10/4/2005 7:53:52 PM ET 2005-10-04T23:53:52

WAVELAND, Miss. — One of the stories here in Waveland that we learned about on the Internet was the plight of the Smolensky family.

They are part of a proud bunch of survivors in this town — the people who watched Katrina come and go. They have less now, but they plan to change that.

“We've been here since ’45,” says Jane Smolensky. “This has been our family home since then, and I'll always hopefully have it.”

It’s “home” in a matter of speaking. Jane Smolensky will show you the line where the water came up.

She and her husband, Louie, are like everybody else here in Waveland — they call it home, but there is very little left.

“It started coming through this door,” Louie remembers, “and I heard a noise, and water started coming in and everything.”

The Smolenskys figured their house survived Camille back in 1969, so the night before Katrina, they offered shelter to friends and family.

“The morning of Katrina, I had elderly ladies here,” recalls Jane.“I got everybody to sit down. I said, ‘Would y'all like some coffee?’”

Then the water started to rise.

“We had water coming under the door,” she says. “And I said, ‘Oh, just put a little bag or something underneath it and stop it.’”

At the height of the storm, the Smolenskys had the presence of mind to start taking photographs, and at its height the water rose more than anyone expected.

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“My brother,” Jane remembers, “looked up and said, 'My car is higher than the window sill.’"

That was their signal to get everyone up to the attic, and that, it turns out, was the key to survival.

“I saw my refrigerator, my freezer, everything floating around,” Jane adds. “I wasn't concerned about the material things, I was just so happy everybody was alive and OK.”

The survival of Waveland, however, is another matter. For years, nearby railroad tracks gave families like the Smolenskys a kind of false hope. The tracks were their levee. But it was no match for Katrina.

While Main Street downtown is no longer here, it's still downtown Waveland to them.

“It's still downtown,” says Louis, “Like this was Ricky's and this is Dempy's. The post office. That's my [American Legion] post. Post 77.”

But, if there's no “here,” here, what do they do?

“They're going to rebuild,” says Jane, “Everybody's going to rebuild. This is home to everybody.”

The Smolenskys say it may take them 10 years, but they will be here. And so will Waveland.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

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