(Town Crier photo/Revis Blaylock)
Born and raised in Manila, she left in 1985 to make her home in Louisiana.
"It was a beautiful place and I loved it there," Riley said. "I had thought about moving back to Manila but those plans were in my future until Hurricane Katrina changed the lives of so many people."
Riley said Katrina was not the first hurricane she had experienced in her 20 years in Louisiana but it would be her last.
Riley's husband, Allen, died in 2001 and she moved to Folsom, La., a rural community 27 miles north of New Orleans.
"I'm a country girl and always will be," Riley said. "I loved it there with the farms, horses and cows. I had great neighbors and it was closer to my job. I had always enjoyed riding horses and dreamed of having my own horse. I bought a golden palomino. She named her horse "Cajun Pal." She enjoyed trail rides and benefit rides with other horsemen in the area.
Riley said her early training in Girl Scouts, band, and teachers at Manila School who taught her to never give up helped her survive the hurricane and the two month ordeal that followed.
"My Papa, W.T. Taylor, always taught me if you have horse sense and common sense you can do anything," Riley said. "I had to call on all of my country survival skills and common sense to survive."
Riley said she took heed to the warnings being issued prior to the Aug. 29 hurricane.
"I had my truck filled with gas, my chain saw ready, extra food, water drawn, flash lights and everything I thought I might need for a few days," Riley said. "We had experienced other hurricanes and had been without power for up to 18 hours or so. I was as prepared as I could be, but we had no idea it would be so bad. We were without power and water with no help for three months. Thank goodness I took my horse to a friend's place where there was a pond."
Riley said she left her home and drove to the home of friends 30 minutes away to ride out the storm with them.
"When I decided to go back and check on my house, it took me four hours to get back with all of the debris and roads closed," Riley said. "I was lost because everything had changed. We were in the country, we were on our own because no one could get to us. We had food and would sometimes rake up pine needles to cook with. We would run the generator just enough to keep the food from spoiling. It got so hot we could not stay inside and I sunburned terribly. I ran out of medicine and could not get my prescriptions filled. By the time I arrived in Manila, I was not in the best physical or mental state."
Riley said one of the worst things about the ordeal was her inability to let her family know she was okay.
"Not even our cell phones would work," Riley said. "My daughter Tanya and her family had evacuated to Manila so I knew they were okay but they had no way of knowing about me. My daughter even put my name on the computer search list to try to find out. We were in the country and I did not even see a Red Cross person until I arrived in Arkansas."
Riley made her decision to come to Manila in October. The water was running out and she was having to ration herself to two cups a day. She said the trip she had made so many times before was not the same. Her friends helped her get ready to come. The gas lines were long and it could take over an hour to get gasoline.
"The towns I traveled through to get home had changed," she said. "When I came through Jackson, Miss., it was still like a dead town. The exits were filled with vehicles out of gas. I did not relax until I got to Batesville, Miss., 30 miles out of Memphis. I had made the trip often and I knew exactly how far I could get on a tank of gasoline."
Riley said she came to Manila with plans to return to Louisiana but the outpouring of love and kindness she received from family, friends, and the community changed her mind and once again Manila is her home.
She feels fortunate because she did have insurance to help cover the damage on her home. She returned two weeks ago and sold her home. She did have to sell her horse but fortunately a friend bought him and she can visit once in a while and knows he is getting good care.
"Everyone in the town and the county has been wonderful helping me relocate and start over," Riley said. "Juanita Blevins, Nila and Tony helped get me in my apartment and have been great, the people at Gamble's Furniture, the staff at Heritage Bank in Manila, Susie Parker with the county, and so many others in the area have helped me with the relocation. One of the things I missed in Louisiana were the 'real' barbecue sandwiches. It is nice to be able to call out at Circle Inn and have Debbie have one ready for me. I even received a postcard from the State of Arkansas welcoming me. I have renewed old friendships from my school days. Jonna Briley and her family have been very good to me. I want to thank everyone who has been here for me."
Riley calls herself faithfully stronger since her life changing experience of Hurricane Katrina.
"I learned you can't worry about your aches and pains, you have to keep on going," Riley said.
Riley managed to have a good Christmas and is looking forward to starting her new year in Manila.
"I want to wish everyone a happy, propserous new year," Riley said. "I also want to personally thank everyone who has been so helpful to me from the state, county, city, and individuals."