A Brainerd couple whose Gulf Coast home was inundated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 is returning there after more than a decade.
Trapped in their home near the beach in Gulfport, Miss., Gerald and Genendal Fratantuono say the water got waist deep inside their house before their prayers were answered and the storm surge crested.
A grandfather clock in their Brainerd home still has a water mark about three feet off the floor, a grim reminder of the day that the sea almost swallowed their city.
Now, after more than a decade living here in Chattanooga, the Fratantuonos are returning to southern Mississippi because of family obligations, they say.
Gerald, a former Washington, D.C., police officer, and Genendal, a former pro-life prayer ministry leader and lobbyist in Washington, say they were living an idyllic retirement life in Gulfport in 2005 when Katrina slammed into the coast.
While most will recall Katrina's carnage in New Orleans, the coastal areas of Mississippi were some of the hardest-hit regions. More than 230 people died in Mississippi during the storm, including nine people in the Fratantuono's Gulfport neighborhood.
"We didn't evacuate," Genendal recalls. "We had spent a small fortune on hurricane shutters, and we felt as safe as could be."
That feeling of safety was short-lived, however, as the Category 5 hurricane walloped the Gulf Coast and hit Mississippi's second-largest city head on.
First, the power went out in the Fratantuono's house; and, after a time, water from the Katrina storm surge started ominously seeping through the air conditioning vents in the floor.
Immediately, Genendal shifted into prayer-warrior mode. She remembered verses from the Bible and recited them as the water inched upward.
"Peace, be still," she implored, recalling a story from the book of Matthew in which Jesus calmed the waters of a lake to protect his disciples.
She also recited an Old Testament passage from the book of Job: "You may come this far, but no farther; your proud waves stop here."
The Fratantuonos don't think it is just coincidence that the rising Gulf waters soon began to recede, sparing them in the process.
"We saw God work a miracle," Genendal said. "He saved our lives."
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After the storm, the Fratantuonos would learn lessons in human kindness.
In the days after Hurricane Katrina swept through, volunteers from all over the country would show up at their flooded house in Gulfport offering to help out any way they could.
With the power off and more than $70,000 in repairs needed to their flooded house, the Fratantuonos went to live with strangers in Long Island, Miss., for six weeks.
Even when they were able to move back into their house, it was hard to get comfortable again in Gulfport, they say.
After some of their Mississippi friends moved to Signal Mountain, they invited the Fratantuonos up to escape the stresses of the Katrina recovery here.
"We were so traumatized, two or three times they invited us to come for a visit," Genendal remembers.
Over time, the Fratantuonos warmed to the idea of moving to Tennessee, and in 2007 they bought a historic home in Brainerd that had been shuttered for decades and then renovated.
Here, they put down roots and began to attend several local churches, including Calvary Chapel on South Broad Street.
Now, though, they feel called to return to the Gulf, where Genendal has family members in need of her assistance.
"I didn't plan to move again, but here we are," she says.
They have bought a house in an inland area in Gulfport this time, ever mindful that the sea is not always as placid and peaceful as it appears.
Contact Mark Kennedy at email@example.com or 423-757-6645.