She found love in Hurricane Katrina aftermath

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 28, 2010

When one thinks of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, it doesn’t bring to mind a happy ending.

But that’s not the case for the soon-to-be married Katrina evacuee Olivia Dupuy and Andalusia native Garret Cleland.

Dupuy was 17 when the fifth deadliest hurricane in U.S. history made landfall on her New Orleans home.

She and her parents, Dean and Nan Dupuy, evacuated the day before the hurricane’s Aug. 29 landfall.

“We had never left New Orleans before when a hurricane hit,” Dupuy said. “Most of the time, there was a lot of fuss over the wind and the rain, but when it became mandatory, we left.”

Dupuy said her father and brother stopped in Mobile to stay with her uncle; she and her mother continued on to Andalusia, where they found refuge from the storm with her grandmother, Joann Williams.

“We didn’t think it was going to be bad,” she said. “But once it hit, we couldn’t get back and forth between here and Mobile.

But, as in times of natural disaster, time stops for no man and life continues. Dupuy was here a month before she enrolled in Straughn. She got a job at David’s Catfish House, and it was there she met the person who would change her life – Cleland.

Cleland, the son of the Rev. Derwood and Marie Cleland, had joined the U.S. Army straight from high school. He served one tour of duty in Iraq and would travel back and forth from his Fayetteville, N.C., duty station to Andalusia whenever he got the chance.

“I worked with his cousin at David’s, and when we met, it was just instant,” Dupuy said. “We started talking that night and have been together ever since.”

Turns out, Dupuy never moved back to her parent’s New Orleans home. She graduated from Straughn High School and is currently pursuing a degree in occupational therapy.

Cleland – now a sergeant – has served the last three and half years in the Army.

“Before we left, I never in a million years would have thought that a hurricane would change my life,” she said. “Growing up, they were always just thought of windstorms. Look now, one brought me to Andalusia and to Garret. It’s amazing.”

The couple will exchange vows on Sept. 25 on the same tract of Red Level land as Cleland’s parents.

“It’s going to be a great beginning for us,” Dupuy said.

Olivia Dupuy met her soon-to-be-husband Garret Cleland after she fled to  Covington County from New Orleans on the brink of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall. The two will marry in September. | Courtesy photo