Jewelers recount Hurricane Katrina experiences

More reports on how the Hurricane Katrina affected jewelers in the Gulf Coast region, and how people are responding, came in over the Labor Day holiday weekend. Among the reports:

* Waveland, Miss., with some 7,000 residents 35 miles east of New Orleans, was “virtually wiped off the map,” reports the Associated Press. “Total devastation. There’s nothing left,” said resident and jeweler Brian Mollere, whose clothes were torn from him in the hurricane and later had dug in the debris to find shorts and a T-shirt. Waveland’s mayor estimated at least 50 residents had died, said The Clarion-Ledger. Tragically, one was Mollere’s 80-year-old mother, who drowned. She and other family members had been evacuated to a nearby town. Mollere has “set up camp on the wreckage where his family’s two-story home and jewelry store once stood,” said the AP report. “A couple of chairs and a sheet of plastic protected him and his dog.” He had swum out of his store with the dog as the waters rose, and found shelter in a house that survived. “If it had been night, I would have drowned,” the article quoted him saying.

* O.C. Tanner, a Salt Lake City, Utah, jeweler and gift manufacturer, has teamed up with several relief organizations to collect donations, reports the Salt Lake Tribune. The company also said it would match all donations made by O.C. Tanner employees dollar for dollar.

* Tennis champion Serena Williams said she and her jeweler would raise funds for hurricane victims by auctioning her $40,000 diamond chandelier earrings, which she had on loan from him, say a number of media reports.

* An Than, a Peoria, Ill., jeweler, who came to the United States from Viet Nam in 1975, told the Journal Star of Peoria, that the hurricane in New Orleans was “worse” than the Viet Nam war, which he fled. “You can’t go in the street. If something happens, you can die right away.” He and his wife were in New Orleans on vacation at a small hotel in the French quarter when Katrina hit. They couldn’t leave New Orleans before the hurricane, because flights were cancelled and he wasn’t sure how to get out of New Orleans in his rental car, he said. “The hurricane came in so bad,” Than said. “The lights turned off completely. The water raised up so high.” They remained in the hotel. (The French Quarter was less devastated than other areas of New Orleans.) There was no air conditioning, “little food except bread and peanut butter, and looters nearby,” he told the newspaper. Than said the tourists in the hotel were repeatedly told a bus would pick them up. “He even paid $100 to someone to get them out, but help didn’t materialize for days,” said the newspaper report.

* Jewelry store owner David Logan, of Laurel, Miss.(a town of 18,000 people, 100 mile northeast of New Orleans, hit hard by Katrina’s gale force winds) was reportedly killed when a pine tree fell on his house during Hurricane Katrina. His last act, reported the Associated Press, was to tell his wife to run as the tree cracked and fell on the porch of his home, collapsing an awning on top of him.

* Surfside Beach, S.C., jeweler Marc McNeer, originally from Mississippi, traveled there in the aftermath of the hurricane to help the senior citizens in his parents’ neighborhood, reported the local Sun News. Some of his wife’s relatives were evacuated from Hattiesburg, Miss., to Surfside, including her baby nephew and his 72-year old great grandmother, said the report. However, the child’s mother, a registered nurse, stayed to work at the local hospital, and its father stayed to salvage what’s left of the family’s devastated chicken farm.

* Liz Zibilich, a New Orleans artist and jeweler, is staying with other Katrina refugees at a Baptist church shelter in Shreveport, La., says the Shreveport Times. She was away from New Orleans but due to return the day Katrina struck, says the report. Instead, she traveled to Houston, and then Shreveport. “”I’m planning on staying in Shreveport a while until I go back and get things together,” she told the newspaper.