As the storm surge floodwaters poured into her Gulfport, Mississippi home, Rebecca Powers made a last minute rush from her attic to save two things: her 1967 Gibson B-25 and her dog Casey. A few minutes later, as wind tore pieces of the roof away, Rebecca and her husband Ben made the desperate jump from a second story window into the dark, dirty water all around them. She was forced to leave her guitar behind, along with everything she owned, to save herself.
“There was water everywhere,” Rebecca says. “My little Toyota just floated away. The whole thing was so surreal. Thank God it was daylight. If it wasn’t I know we would not have survived.” Using a stray hot tub as a makeshift raft, Rebecca and Ben pulled their way through debris and sought shelter in a neighbor’s carport. They stayed stranded, blocked in by fallen trees, for 12 hours. “I prayed a lot, sang a lot. My dad died a few years ago, so I talked to him a lot. After the water started to go down, we started to feel okay. But for about an hour, it was rising. The wave would come in and go back out, come in and go back out. It was horrible. We really are lucky to be alive,” she says.
The days following the storm were miserable: hot and humid, the town in rubble, the injured everywhere with no food or drinking water, the air thick with the stench of gas leaking from leveled homes. Rescued by firefighters going house to house to find survivors, Rebecca was brought to WLOX, the local ABC affiliate, where she is an on-air news anchor. When she was finally able to return to her home, she found it completely destroyed. “I didn’t even want to look. I just sat at the edge of the street in the hot, horrible, miserable humid sun. And I’m sitting here, in tears, and my husband comes walking back towards me, and he is holding my Gibson. I said, ‘How is this possible?’ It was just sitting on a debris pile, 50 yards from where we left it.”
The guitar, not surprisingly, was incredibly damaged. Rebecca gave it to Todd Durbin, a close friend and great picker, and asked if there was anything he could do to at least make it playable. Unbeknownst to Rebecca, Todd sent it to Gibson Repair & Restoration. "Every few weeks I would ask him, ‘How is my guitar?’ and he’d say, ‘Oh I haven’t had a chance to get to it yet.’ He was fibbing to me!” Rebecca laughs. Meanwhile, the incredible luthiers at Repair & Restoration were sending Todd pictures and frequent updates on the progress of their work. Flood water had nearly destroyed the old acoustic. It had to be stripped and completely refinished, and the rare red-and-yellow burst finish that had inspired Rebecca to name the guitar “Bloody Mary” had to be painstakingly reproduced. When Todd presented Rebecca with her guitar, she was stunned.
“A few weeks ago, Todd and I were playing, and he opens this beautiful new hard case and there is my guitar. I couldn’t believe it. It is even better than it was before. It’s got new everything. It even sounds better; the action used to be all off, and it was hard to keep in tune. And they put a pickup in it so I don’t have to mike it when I play out. It really is incredible what they did.”
Coming through such a terrible experience has not been easy, but Rebecca and her husband are rebuilding, picking up the pieces that Katrina left behind, and doing well. “I just wanted to thank the guys at Repair & Restoration for their beautiful artistry,” Rebecca says. “I feel like a piece of my lost past has been returned. I appreciate it more than they will ever know.”