Despite the tragic situation she's in, Kesha Ainsworth sounded happy in Gulfport, Miss., this week — she has her family with her and should, by now, have her children.
"My mom lost everything. Everyone has to start all over. It's just a matter of trying to put things back together," she said while driving to see her grandparents. Because phone lines are often tied up and reception is weak, Ainsworth couldn't talk long, but one thing shone through her bleak surroundings: "I'm happy. I'm going to see my kids."
Ainsworth, 29, moved to Utah about a month ago to attend the Utah College of Massage Therapy and left her three children with her mother in their hometown of Biloxi, Miss., until she could find housing for her family. She called her children, Alexis, 9; Dewontay, 6; and Damion, 4, on Sunday, Aug. 28, as they were getting ready to evacuate to a hotel with other extended family members.
But her children and mother never made it to the hotel. The only clue Ainsworth had that her children were still alive was a text message sent to her cell phone — "Your kids are OK and they need food and water" — sent to her from a mystery phone number that wouldn't return her calls.
But Saturday, cousin Tomeka Ainsworth gave Kesha Ainsworth the best news she had heard all week: Her children were safe with Tomeka in Hattiesburg, Miss., and wanted their mother.
In an interview with the Deseret Morning News last Friday, between tears, Ainsworth described her fear and helplessness over Hurricane Katrina. The storm left an estimated thousands dead and even more homeless after tearing through the Gulf Coast states.
Through donations from Utahns, Ainsworth received enough money to buy a plane ticket to Mobile, Ala. Although hotel rooms were booked and rental cars were gone, Ainsworth found her family and said Tuesday she was anxiously waiting to make the 1 1/2-hour drive from Gulfport to Hattiesburg. The drive has been hard to make because of the aftermath from the hurricane. An 8 p.m. curfew is enforced, and only $30 worth of gas is allowed per car — gas that Ainsworth and her family had to wait for in a four-hour line.
Her children were staying with their grandmother in a rescue camp in Biloxi, where family found them. Ainsworth's husband took them away from the standing, polluted water to Hattiesburg because of the growing threat of disease. Ainsworth said she bought them T-shirts at one of the only working stores and was nervous about what they were drinking because although many areas of the damaged states have running water, it's not clean.
Ainsworth will be bringing her children back with her to Utah — and hopes to rent a bus and bring more friends and family to the Beehive State.
"I'm hoping to bring back a lot of people with me because it's just so bad out here."