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BRANDI AND TIM Bowers are still newlyweds – they were married in her home state of Oregon in August. Now they’re facing separation with his deployment to Iraq and hers to Guam.

Local Witnesses
Gulfport Devastation

By Jeanne Sager
TENNANAH LAKE — September 9, 2005 – In hindsight, Karen Bowers said she should have told her son to leave Gulfport, Miss.
But how was she to know?
The Roscoe Central School teacher waited with bated breath as Hurricane Katrina blew through the Gulf Coast.
Late that Monday evening, a call came in to her Tennanah Lake home.
“Will you accept the charges?” an operator asked.
Bowers said yes, and she was patched through to her son, Tim, a Navy Seabee stationed in Gulfport.
He and brand new bride Brandi, another Seabee, were OK.
When the television news began reporting a category five hurricane headed for the southern portion of the country, Karen talked with her son via phone.
He considered evacuating, she said, but the roads outside their apartment were a “parking lot.”
“He said, ‘When I look on the television, they’re parked 20 miles down the road,’” Bowers said. “He was afraid to get out on the road and the storm hit . . . he really didn’t know what to do.”
So Tim and Brandi rode out the worst American natural disaster in modern times in their apartment building.
When the rain stopped, they surveyed the damage.
The vinyl was blown off of their apartment building, a portion of the roof had been lifted up and part of the roof was gone.
But they were OK, Karen Bowers said. Their building was still standing – unlike hundreds of others in Gulfport.
“The water came up 6 miles from the shore, and they’re 7 miles from the shore, so they didn’t have the water from the storm surge,” she explained.
The Mississippi Bowers don’t have electricity. Since Katrina hit, they’ve been cooking their meals on a gas grill.
A meal of Easy Mac, mixed up with water boiled on their grill, was a real treat, Karen Bowers said.
She spoke with her son via cell phone on Monday night – although she suspects he must have picked up some emergency line because she’s never been charged for a collect call from a wireless phone.
He spoke of complete devastation, of gasoline shortages that threatened to keep him homebound because he didn’t have enough in his tank to go back and forth between the base and the apartment.
The phone lines are still down, and Karen and husband Jack can’t call their son. They can only wait for him to break through the tangle of emergency calls coming out of the Gulf Coast region to reassure them that he’s alright.
Tim has been working hard since the storm blew out of town to respond to those who truly need help.
“The day after the hurricane, they were not organized,” his mom said. “Their base had been hit too, so he and another young man made connection with the sheriff, and they were out doing search and rescue.”
A firefighter in his youth with the Hankins-Fremont Center and Roscoe-Rockland fire departments, Tim Bowers was familiar with responding in an emergency and heading into disaster zones to rescue people.
He kept it together, his mom said, and when he finally caught up with his master chief, Tim jumped aboard an excavator to begin clearing the streets of Gulfport of the debris that has kept other emergency workers from moving in.
“It’s very tough,” Karen Bowers said, “but Tim is a doer, he’s a worker; in his mind, it has to be done.”
That’s the way the 2000 Roscoe Central School grad has always been.
“We came home from work one day and he said, ‘I called the guy, and he came over, and I enlisted.’” she recalled. “He didn’t tell us beforehand.”
Tim Bowers works with heavy equipment in the Navy, a skill that’s made him crucial to the relief effort.
“He went in to be a builder, not a fighter,” Karen explained.
But Tim is scheduled to head to Iraq in October. His wife will be shipped out to Guam at the same time.
Just married in August, the couple met in Gulfport as members of the same battalion.
Because of their marital status, the government won’t send them to the same place for active duty.
But Seabees spend 10 months at their home port, which is Gulfport for both Brandi and Tim.
They then spend six months deployed.
Karen Bowers is hoping the government will see the devastation this natural disaster has wreaked on the members of its own armed forces and delay their deployment.
She’s not trying to be selfish; she knows these men and women aren’t ready to go.
“No one likes to hear their son or daughter is being deployed to Iraq,” she said, “but now does not seem like the right time.
“These are people who don’t have electricity, these are people who don’t have a way to prepare their families for their deployment,” she said. “Many of these men and women have no homes right now.”
The four weeks before deployment are usually a soldier’s last chance to get their lives in order, to pay bills, to cut off utilities, to put their belongings in storage and spend sweet moments with their families.
Working in the midst of tragedy, these people cannot do that now, Karen said.
Many of the military families who lost their homes cannot begin to get back on their feet because they have been pressed into service in the relief effort – the victims have become the emergency responders.
Others who at least have their homes and basic necessities can do little without electricity, without access to their banks and the postal system.
“My second concern is more personal and certainly smaller than the loss of life,” Karen said. “Tim and Brandi have an apartment full of belongings that they have to leave, and there’s nowhere for them to store it.”
Storage units were destroyed by the storm, as was most of the city of Gulfport, and the couple can’t take their stuff with them.
“My husband and I would gladly rent storage space for them, but we can’t get into that region at this point,” Karen added. “The roads immediately coming out of Gulfport are closed right now.
“If we were allowed in in a couple of weeks, we’d go, but I don’t know that we will be allowed in then either.”
When Tim and Brandi finish serving their country, they plan to make their home in Roscoe, and Karen would like them to come home to find their belongings waiting for them.
In the event that the government does not delay the battalion’s deployment, Karen hopes trucks headed into the region with aid might be coming back empty to New York and would be willing to take on some extra cargo.
“You’d hate to see someone say, ‘If they’d only known, they would have helped,’” Karen said.
Anyone who can help Tim and Brandi Bowers should call Karen Bowers at 607-498-5545.

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