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Life six months after Katrina

By Kris AxtmanStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / March 1, 2006


Six months after hurricane Katrina drove them from their homes and destroyed their possessions, some still live in shelters, others in hotels and FEMA trailers. A few have begun to rebuild. The worst natural disaster in US history displaced some 770,000 residents - the most since the great Dust Bowl migrations of the 1930s. The storm destroyed or made uninhabitable some 300,000 homes.

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Few have returned - no matter their desire. In the city's hardest-hit areas, such as the Ninth Ward, there is still no power or running water. In St. Bernard Parish, some utilities make it possible to return, but less than 10 percent of its residents have done so. Along Mississippi's Gulf Coast, few FEMA trailers appear.

Those who are here live on lonely streets, along barren, windswept shores, and in tiny trailers beside gutted homes.

Here are a few of their stories.

Cass Robinson

After graduating from high school in the Lower Ninth Ward, Mr. Robinson moved into a rental home here and began attending the University of New Orleans. Not long after, hurricane Katrina forced him to evacuate to Florida and then Georgia. He finally made his way back to the city and is working as a contractor, gutting houses and repairing roofs. He says he plans to reenroll in college this summer, but needs to make money first. "Katrina turned everything upside down," he says on a return trip to his home to salvage car parts. Everything inside was destroyed as the floodwaters rose above the roof. The teenager is currently living with family in the Gentilly area of New Orleans, using generators for power. "Going to college coming out of this neighborhood is really rare," he says, "so it's important I go back as soon as possible."

Chuck, Rene, and Justin Veazey

Chuck and Rene Veazey, along with their teenage son, Justin, had just moved into their West Pass Christian home along the Mississippi Gulf Coast last August. It had taken four years to clear the land and build the house. Then, with moving boxes still unpacked, Katrina threatened, and they fled to Picayune, Miss. They thought all would be well since the house had been built to sustain 155 m.p.h. winds and was raised 20 feet above ground. But the entire first floor was flooded as the waters rose to 27 feet, washing everything away. Intent to stay in this idyllic location, they signed with a builder in November and, just this week, a crew began putting up new sheetrock.

"We had all these things but, in the end, we learned that it was just stuff," says Mr. Veazey. "Katrina taught us a lot of good lessons."

Terry and Ed Held Jr.

Being the only ones back on a street can be lonely, but Terry and Ed Held Jr. are determined to remake their lives in the heavily damaged St. Bernard Parish. After evacuating and living in a Louisiana shelter until November, the mother and son bought their own trailer without FEMA's help and set it in their driveway. "At first it was scary here at night, but then a streetlight came on and lit the area up," says Mr. Held, who has worked in the movie industry most of his life. He says he will rebuild but is still fighting with the insurance company over his losses. He's also waiting for the new flood maps to determine how to rebuild. St. Bernard Parish doesn't even have 10 percent of its residents back yet.

Ann and George Yarbrough