The Home That Stayed.

When Hurricane Camille hit, Glenn Ryan feared the worst. “As I approached my home, I got sick,” he says. “Because I knew my home was destroyed.” Here’s what happened next.

story by Dan Oshinsky / photos by Dan Oshinsky
published August 10, 2010

In high school, Glenn Ryan had this part-time job with the city. He’d go around with a team of engineers from Ocean Springs, and they’d survey properties. So one day, he’s maybe 17 or 18, and he’s down on the end of Holcomb Boulevard, where the Gulf meets the pavement, and he’s standing on one end of a tape measure. This property’s up on a big sand dune, and it’s got 65 oak trees coming up out of the sand. There isn’t a home there yet, but there will be soon. Ryan looks around the property and tells his boss, “If I was building a house, I would never live here.” This place couldn’t survive a thunderstorm, he reasons.

So it’s a few years later, and Ryan’s married. He and his wife are looking to buy a home, and his wife gets a call from a friend, who says, I’ve got the place you’re looking for. The wife goes down and checks it out and tells Ryan, I’ve found the one. And Ryan goes down and looks around the place and tells his wife, “No sir-eee, baby.” It’s the same property down off Holcomb that he’d seen all those years earlier.

And so they go back and forth. The wife says, Yes. Ryan says, Hell no.

“Before the month was out, we had moved in,” Ryan says.

A few years after that: Ryan’s in the National Guard, his ninth year in Ocean Springs. He’s the HQ company commander for the 138th, a transportation unit, and turns out that Ryan’s having a bit of trouble with the very thing his unit is supposed to specialize in. He’s spent the night in the armory, but Hurricane Camille’s dropped 17 feet of water in the armory. One of the boys guarding the door runs up and tells Ryan, “Cap, come quick. Water’s knocking down the front door.” They’ve got this one LARC out front; it’s an amphibious vehicle that’s half-boat, half-flat bed. Once one of the boys actually gets a hold of the thing, they load up the crew and head out on the LARC, sailing out over the armory’s fences and below the power lines.

“At that point, we aren’t going to save anybody else,” he says. “We had to save ourselves.”

So they’re boating down Howard Avenue in east Biloxi when the motor just stops. The drive shaft’s dead, and the water is pulling them straight down Howard Avenue into the Gulf. Ryan jumps in, and so does a sergeant, and they manage to lasso part of a home and tie down the LARC. The eye of the storm is 40 minutes west, so the winds aren’t so strong: maybe 100, 140 mph, Ryan thinks. The boys are sitting on top of an amphibious flat-bed truck in the middle of the road.

“At that point, we aren’t going to save anybody else,” he says. “We had to save ourselves.”

They hang on until daybreak, when the water eases down and they can drive back to the armory, where Ryan’s afraid that locals are going to try to break in and steal guns or supplies. They don’t, but Ryan’s got other problems: a bowling alley’s crashed into the armory, and they’ve got enough pins and lanes inside the walls to start their own league.

Point of the story, though: three days later, Ryan finally tries to go home. The bridge between Biloxi and Ocean Springs has gone knock-kneed, so he takes the long way around. He gets two-thirds of the way down Holcomb before the road gives out. Every tree on the street is knocked over; every home on the block is torn up, either from Camille or the tornados that always pop-up once a major hurricane hits land. He takes to foot, and a few steps past, he starts thinking about what he’d seen back at that part-time job with the engineers.

“As I approached my home, I got sick,” he says. “Because I knew my home was destroyed.”

Ryan starts climbing over trees and debris. He asks a few people on the side of the road if they’ve seen what’s happened farther down Holcomb, but nobody’s gotten that far. At some point, Ryan stops, vomits where a neighbor’s yard used to be and keeps walking. His home’s around the corner.

“When I got here and saw it, I said, ‘My God,'” he remembers. “I had trees on this corner of my house and trees over there. They went left and they went right, and they went forward and they went backward, but none hit my house.”

The water had come right up to the cement on his front stoop and stopped. The home that wasn’t fit to survive a thunderstorm stood upright right through Camille. ❑