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Changing the Hurricane Culture(1)

2005-09-12 00:00

  James Mosley was both too poor and too proud to leave. His legs were paralyzed since childhood, but it meant the world to James, 52, to strut his independence: he insisted on living by himself in a small, green cinderblock house in the working-class section of Biloxi, Miss., called Point Cadet. And whenever hurricanes approached the Gulf Coast, James adamantly refused suggestions that, given his wheelchair-bound vulnerability, he should evacuate. Says his brother Robert, "He had a big, brave heart."

  Brave enough to confront Hurricane Katrina. Like most in Point Cadet's enclave of lower-income blacks, Hispanics and Vietnamese a stone's throw from Biloxi's beachfront hotels and casinos, James had neither a car nor much access to bus transportation to leave the weekend Katrina hit. What he did have is what's known in this part of the country as catastrophe cowboy syndrome: a cavalier attitude shared among so many on the Gulf Coast that they can stand up to, and ride out, threats like major hurricanes. So when Katrina's 25-foot storm surge slammed into Point Cadet's rising flood waters on the morning of August 29, it swept James' body to the north—"twisted and folded up like some raggedy doll," says a friend, Fred Smith—and two days his drowned corpse was found 100 yards away, lodged with debris in a wire fence.

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