Biloxi Man's "Guardian Angel" Got Him Through Katrina

The 911 phone rang. Dispatcher Joetta Zapata answered it.

"Biloxi Police and Fire," she said.

The panicked caller on the other end recognized her voice.

"Jo," he yelled out. "This is Lou. I just wanted to let you know me and my mother are going to die."

It was Monday, August 29. Katrina had overwhelmed east Biloxi.

"We were frantic," Lou Blomberg remembered.

The Pine Street resident and his mother tried riding out Hurricane Katrina at home. They made a big mistake. So big, death seemed a real possibility.

"Absolutely," Blomberg said.

Tension in Blomberg's voice on the 911 tape was very evident.

"Your house is falling apart?" the dispatcher asked.

"Yes," Blomberg yelled, "and we can't get onto the roof."

Three weeks later, Blomberg remembered exactly what took place.

"When the water started rising, the back wall immediately blew out," he said.

The house was a fixture on Pine Street for more than 100 years. Katrina pushed it several hundred yards north.

Back to the 911 call.

"Just stay on the phone with me Lou," the dispatcher exclaimed.

The phone worked just long enough for Blomberg to hear advice that probably saved his life. The dispatcher told him to grab onto something.

"I held onto the wall right here in this corner," he said, and then he placed his mother on a nearby mattress. From there, "we just rode it out."

The two story house started spinning. Blomberg feared the worst.

"Jo, we're gone baby," he told Biloxi's dispatcher.

From her perch in Biloxi's emergency operations center, Zapata calmly responded, "No, don't say that Lou."

Zapata was one of the dispatchers on duty during the hurricane who wouldn't let nervous callers trapped by Katrina give up without a fight.

"Do you have anything that can float?" she asked Blomberg and just about every other caller. "A cooler? An empty cooler that you can hold onto? A door that will float? Take a door off the wall that will float."

"She provided me calm," Blomberg said. "That calm voice on the other end of that phone got me calm enough, got my head back straight to do the right thing."

Blomberg carried a picture of what his home looked like before Katrina. It was a far cry from the post Katrina mess at Pine Street and Howard Avenue. The spot where his house finally stopped floating looked like so many other properties around the coast -- twisted and trashed, and so far from its original slab.

When Blomberg walked back to where the house once stood, he saw his furniture scattered around east Biloxi. Yet, he had a smile on his face.

"I was happy. Not happy that I lost the house. But happy that we were alive," he said.

Blomberg said he was very aware that he survived this storm for two reasons. Because of Zapata, "she was my guardian angel." And because of prayer.

"God answered my prayer by letting me talk to Joetta," he thought. "That was, to me, his voice coming out of her mouth, saying this is what you need to do."

What Blomberg must do next is rebuild -- away from Pine Street. Katrina sent a clear message. It's finally time to leave his childhood home.

"I didn't cry. I was just happy that I was alive and my mom was alive," he said.