Katrina + 10

Tony Brugger, 64, Pass Christian

Tony Brugger of Pass Christian, right, Hurricane Katrina Victim, J. Anthony Brugger
Tony Brugger of Pass Christian, right, Hurricane Katrina Victim, J. Anthony Brugger

Tony Brugger met Diane Pontius when they were Missouri volunteers in Eugene McCarthy's presidential bid. When they married, McCarthy sent them a congratulatory telegram.

Hurricane Katrina washed the treasured telegram out of their Harbor Oaks Inn, along with family antiques and years of restoration on the historic 1860 Pass Christian structure.

Brugger and best bud Harley didn't make it out of the collapsing inn. His wife of 37 years and three of their other dogs did.

"We were from the very liberal '60s and living in Mississippi was the furthest thought," said Diane Brugger. "We came to the Coast for a visit with friends, and fell in love with it. We passed the house, all boarded up and home to transients and rodents."

In short, they bought it and with help of family and sweat equity, opened in 1991. Brugger, who contributed his fix-it hands and MBA mind, was as gregarious with B&B guests as his wife, and soon two pet horses, Bucky and Mac, joined them in the back yard to be fed carrots by the guests.

Their friend Philip LaGrange recalls a Kentucky Derby party when Brugger, "a wonderful, laid-back person," showed up with a decked-out Bucky.

Columnist Bill Minor wrote of the Bruggers' plight in the storm.

"The day before the storm, the Bruggers had prepared to take in evacuees and that night began feeding EMTs and police. They went to bed to catch some sleep as the storm was tracked toward the Coast, believing Harbour Oaks' elevation made it safe.

"Together with their three dogs, their faithful housekeeper and her handyman husband, Diane and Tony gathered on the second floor to await the arrival of Katrina, which by 3 a.m. had been downgraded to Category 3. But from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. the winds, said Diane, "went from bad to worse" tearing off the plywood coverings from doors and windows.

"Then, the surge (they thought it had already passed) came in with a vengeance, breaking the house into four or five pieces. When the ceiling collapsed, Tony was caught by it and taken off under the water. A tool chest came crashing down on top of Mark, housekeeper Darlene's husband.

"Somehow, debris flowing from the house became a raft for Diane, Mark and Darlene, sweeping them into a huge Live oak tree behind the house. The three grabbed hold of branches and climbed to the tree top by digging their fingers into the vines on the tree. There for the next three or four hours they clung, finally inching down when the water receded.

"Mark, despite a skull fracture, went after help. Diane hunkered behind her kitchen stove, which had lodged at the tree's base, wrapping herself in a tablecloth to ward off hypothermia that had set in from the wind chilling her wet body.

"Volunteer relief workers arrived, and Diane was carted off to the hospital in Gulfport, then released after a short stay and taken in at the Holiday Inn where her daughter worked. Meantime, Tony's body had been found, but it would be weeks before Diane and her daughter could track it down.

"Finally in October, his ashes would be flown by an executive of American Airways, Diane's longtime employer, for a memorial service in St. Louis, in the same Catholic Church where Diane and Tony were married 37 years before. Diane's sister in St. Louis gave her use of a house, and a chance to sort out the myriad details now confronting her."

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