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Reservists, families face uncertainties after hurricane

SMYRNA, Ga. -- Senior Master Sgt. David Hufton, his wife, Robin, their two sons, Dawson, 2, and Iain, 5 months, and their dog, Angus, live at a hotel here close to Dobbins Air Reserve Base.  Sergeant Hufton is an intelligence analyst with the 403rd Wing at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., and had only been in his house in Ocean Springs, Miss., less than a month when it was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Bo Joyner)

SMYRNA, Ga. -- Senior Master Sgt. David Hufton, his wife, Robin, their two sons, Dawson, 2, and Iain, 5 months, and their dog, Angus, live at a hotel here close to Dobbins Air Reserve Base. Sergeant Hufton is an intelligence analyst with the 403rd Wing at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., and had only been in his house in Ocean Springs, Miss., less than a month when it was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. (U.S. Air Force photo by Bo Joyner)

OCEAN SPRINGS, Miss. -- Hurricane Katrina ripped away brick and sheetrock from the first floor of the Senior Master Sgt. David Hufton's home here but left the second floor seemingly unscathed.  He and his family had not even lived in the house for a month before it was destroyed by the hurricane.  The intelligence analyst with the 403rd Wing at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., is staying with his family at a hotel near Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Ga.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Master Sgt. David Hufton)

OCEAN SPRINGS, Miss. -- Hurricane Katrina ripped away brick and sheetrock from the first floor of the Senior Master Sgt. David Hufton's home here but left the second floor seemingly unscathed. He and his family had not even lived in the house for a month before it was destroyed by the hurricane. The intelligence analyst with the 403rd Wing at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., is staying with his family at a hotel near Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Ga. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Master Sgt. David Hufton)

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga -- (Editor’s note: Hundreds of Air Force reservists assigned to the 403rd Wing, Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., and the 926th Fighter Wing, Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base New Orleans, La., lost their homes and most of what they owned to Hurricane Katrina. A week after the storm made landfall, the men and women of these Air Force Reserve Command units began trying to put the pieces of their lives back together. This is one family’s story.)

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. – Senior Master Sgt. David Hufton was proud to be the newest member of the 403rd Wing, Keesler AFB, Miss. An air reserve technician intelligence analyst, he reported for duty Aug. 22, one week to the day before Hurricane Katrina devastated the Biloxi base and everything around it.

Sergeant Hufton; his wife, Robin, a pharmaceutical auditor; their two sons, Dawson, 2, and Iain, 5 months; and Angus, the family dog, moved into their dream home in Ocean Springs, Miss., Aug. 3.

“The house was gorgeous,” Sergeant Hufton said. “It had everything we ever wanted.”

With a view of the gulf, a swimming pool, a gourmet kitchen and designer accents throughout, their two-story house on Debra Street was the kind of home that might appear in Southern Living magazine or on the Home and Garden Television network.

The Huftons were still unpacking boxes and painting bedrooms when it began to look like Hurricane Katrina might cause problems.

“I went to work on Friday (Aug. 26), and they told us to cover all of our computers in plastic,” Sergeant Hufton recalled. “That night, I went out and bought some plywood, and Saturday morning, I started boarding up our windows.”

Early Sunday morning, the Huftons packed everything they could fit into their two vehicles and began planning their evacuation.

“We packed up enough clothes for three or four days, all of the diapers and baby wipes we had in the house, all of my military records, our tax papers, some pictures and a few other mementos and that was it,” Sergeant Hufton said. “Robin got on the computer and started looking for a place to stay. It took her three hours, and the closest thing she could find was the Airport Marriott in Atlanta.

“At 8:30, we locked up the house and started driving,” the sergeant said. “We were surprised because it looked like we were the only ones in our neighborhood who were leaving. There were people out mowing their grass, washing their cars. It kind of made us think we might be overreacting a little bit.”

It turned out that the decision to evacuate early Sunday morning was the right one.

“Traffic wasn’t bad at all, but I heard that later that day, it was awful,” he said. “We got to the hotel late that afternoon and started watching the news.”

Monday morning, Katrina hit and it wasn’t long before the Huftons started getting phone calls from their home security system company.

“They would call every 10 minutes and say they were getting a signal that the alarm from one window was going off and then another window and then the doors,” Sergeant Hufton said. “As the calls would come in, we would try to picture in our minds what was happening to our house. It was really a helpless feeling.”

The Huftons stayed in the Airport Marriot for three nights, watching the news as the decimation from Katrina came to light. They talked to friends and family members by phone to assure everyone they were all right.

On Wednesday, Sergeant Hufton went to Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta and found that about 90 “Hurricane Hunters” from Keesler’s 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron were already there. He moved his family from the airport hotel to a Residence Inn closer to Dobbins.

“The people at the Residence Inn have been super,” Sergeant Hufton said. “When they found out we weren’t able to fit our stroller in one of our cars, they went out and bought us one, and they pitched in and bought some toys for Dawson and Iain. All the people at Dobbins have been great, too.

“I was holding up pretty well until we checked in at the Residence Inn. They asked me to fill out an information card and wanted to know our address. That’s when I lost it,” he said. “We didn’t have an address anymore, so I just wrote, ‘USAF.’”

On Friday, Mrs. Hufton was able to view an aerial photo of their home on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Web site.
“The roof looked fine, but you could see there was debris everywhere, and it looked like two cars were sticking out of our master bathroom,” she said.

Understandably, the experience was extremely emotional for the family.
“It’s been really hard,” Mrs. Hufton said. “On the one hand, I’m extremely thankful that we are all OK, but then I start thinking about all of the things that are priceless to us that we’ll never see again, and it breaks my heart.”

Dawson and Iain are keeping their mother busy.

“Dawson just learned to say ‘Mississippi,’” she said.
Sergeant Hufton was able to catch a flight with the Hurricane Hunters back to Keesler on Saturday. A fellow reservist gave him a ride out to his house so he could survey the damage.

“I wasn’t prepared for what I saw,” he said. “The bricks and sheetrock were gone from the floor until about eight feet up. Everything downstairs was gone. I found one of our sofas out in the yard, but that was it. And there were two vans halfway in our bathroom. When I saw how bad it was, I just broke down and started crying.”

Amazingly, the upstairs of the Huftons’ house was not damaged. Sergeant Hufton plans to drive back to Ocean Springs to salvage what he can and begin the clean-up process. He and his wife have been in contact with their insurance company to determine how much of their loss will be covered.

“There’s a lot of confusion right now,” the sergeant said. “We hadn’t even made our first house payment yet.”

In the meantime, Sergeant Hufton will continue to work out of Dobbins, and the Huftons will continue to call the Residence Inn home, at least for a few days.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us,” Sergeant Hufton said. “But we’ll make it through this as a family.”