Brian Mollere is tired of being a hurricane celebrity, so much so that he’s considering what would have been unthinkable just a few weeks ago: Getting out of town and away from the vast debris field that surrounds him in what was downtown Waveland.
The 50-year-old Mollere owes his fame to national media reports on his harrowing survival when he was caught up in the 30-plus-foot storm surge that smashed his town into kindling. In addition to saving his own life with a desperate swim to safety, he managed to keep his mother’s Chihuahua, Rocky, tucked in the crook of his arm the whole time.
“I was picked up by a 40-foot wave and pushed 800, 900 feet,” he recalled, gently rocking on an old wooden chair salvaged from the towering debris piles nearby. “It just wasn’t my time to go. It was a ride I’ll never forget though. It’s like some of these surfers look for the perfect wave, well I had one, in a sense. But it wasn’t the type I was looking for.” (Click here to hear Mollere describe his ordeal.)
Mollere, who before the storm worked in real estate and marine construction, recounts his brush with death with the dazed delivery of a shell-shocked combat veteran, and his tone doesn’t change when he describes the death of his 80-year-old mother, Jane.
He recalls sending her to stay with family members in a Bay St. Louis house that was five feet higher than her home in Waveland and presumably safer.
“I put her in the car, and I said ‘Mom, I’ll probably never see you again,’ because I used to joke around with her all the time,” he said.
After his narrow escape, Mollere hiked three miles to Bay St. Louis only to learn that his mother had drowned when she was unable to escape as the house was demolished by the same wave that nearly took his life.
He then hiked back to the site where her home had stood, atop the family-run hardware store across from the flattened Waveland City Hall, gathered a few items from the wreckage and set up his camp. For the first three days, he saw no one.
“I would wake up and look around and it was like your whole world was gone,” he recalled. “It was like being on a bombed-out planet or something. There was no noise – you could hear no bugs, no birds – it was just an eerie silence for three days.”
In the weeks since the storm, Mollere’s camp, which he shares with life-long friend “Wild Bill” Laprime, has evolved into a one-stop aid station and information clearinghouse.
“Eventually people started to come over the rubble and bring help, bring food, ask questions if Ive seen loved ones or anything,” he said. “So I started gathering up more tables and just got more stuff to make the place more comfortable, livable. And I started taking in information … and we were like a little way station here for people, because we were the only ones on this side of the railroad tracks.”
But the constant stream of visitors from morning to night has begun to wear on Mollere. He said he’d like to take a vacation once he is able to bury his mother, whose body was found in the debris five days after Katrina only to be whisked to a temporary morgue set up by the county, where the family has been unable to reclaim it.
“We still haven’t buried my mother,” he said. “I’m trying to get this done at this point. I’m hoping to get all my affairs straightened out so I can get away from here for a little while. Because I’m getting to that state of mind where I’m really depressed. And some psychiatrist told me about three weeks ago that it would hit me and it’s beginning to right now. … It’s just depressing, too overwhelming at this point.”