Hurricane Katrina

Charles Gray: 'The Rolls-Royce Guy'

Name: Charles Harry Gray, "the Rolls-Royce guy," director of the Hancock County Historical Society.

Age: 72.

Location: The home where he lived and which he was renovating/redecorating at the time of Hurricane Katrina was at 107 Washington St. in Bay St. Louis, though he retains an attachment to his former Bay home, Beachwood Hall, an 1840 Greek Revival that stood at 806 South Beach Blvd., "around the corner" from the Washington Street address.

Before the storm: Gray sold Beachwood Hall two years before Katrina and threw himself into the Washington Street property, a former Ford Model T assembly plant, which was 80 percent complete when the hurricane struck. He had intended to stay but a family member persuaded him to leave.

How did you survive the storm? Gray rode out the storm with his sister, Martha Love, in Waynesboro. His efforts to return to the Coast - which he was unable to do for 10 days - were Herculean. He tried first to drive in within a day or two after the storm and was turned back. He next chartered an airplane but was told when they tried to file a flight plan that the air space over the Coat was "a no-fly area because of all the helicopters." He said he then called someone he knew in Mobile and asked if they would bring him by boat to the jetty at Washington Street; he was told the closest the boater could come was the Mississippi Sound channel.

"Finally a very nice policewoman told me in Wiggins that Highway 603 was open, so I drove over to Poplarville from there and came down that way," said Gray, who found his home "flat as a fritter."

One day in late July this year, Gray was seen hauling cinder blocks in the trunk of his baby-blue Thunderbird to the site where he's trying to begin rebuilding his home "if I can find a contractor to cooperate," he said.

And what of the Rolls-Royce that early on was parked beside his FEMA trailer and photographed by virtually every newsperson who visited Bay St. Louis? It is tucked safely away at an undisclosed Diamondhead location.

How are you surviving now? He plans to rebuild but meanwhile has consoled himself by adding crown molding to his FEMA trailer and displaying the few pieces of china and other precious objects scavenged from the ruins.

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