Tree that saved lives in Katrina now transformed into gifts

OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - It seemed like a typical Christmas morning at the Martin residence in Ocean Springs, but nestled around the tree were 11 wood carvings in the forms of pelicans, egrets and other birds.

Those carvings came from a giant cedar tree that once took a different form.

"That's what God used to save our lives," said Alice Martin.

During Hurricane Katrina, Gay and Alice Martin clung to a cedar tree in their back yard for almost three hours.

A storm surge, that was more than 30 feet above sea level, forced the couple to climb on the roof of their home. They recalled the incident like it was yesterday.

"Alice was getting comfortable on our roof," said Gay Martin.

"But the roof was sinking. So we got off and got on the tree. We never found the roof."

"At some point during that three hours, a pelican came floating by and a piece of the county pier and we think of the Wizard of Oz with the cow flying," said Alice Martin.

"We laughed at the pelican who was trying to catch up and jumped on the pier and floated away."

It's the story they laugh about now that helped inspire them to cut down the tree and have sculptor Marlin Miller make it into Christmas gifts for their daughters and grandchildren.

"The reason I chose the pelican is because even in the middle of the hurricane, my dad found something to think was funny," said daughter Elizabeth Neithamer.

"That is actually the crack that you see in the one I picked that makes the wing of a pelican," said daughter Carolyn Martin pointing to her carving.

"So, I thought it was my very philosophical brain picked up on the fact that it was the crack that he focused on at a very dark time and it turned into a wing."

"It shows new life and new hope out of devastation. Something that was dead still has beauty in it, and now we can preserve that beauty in our children and grandchildren," said Alice Martin.

Sitting together as one big family, the Martins say more than anything, they give thanks.

Because of the tree that saved their lives, they're able to spend the holidays together.

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