Wendy Hall and the kids are in Alabama, in a house that will do for now. Bruce Connell divides his time between them and a camper in the driveway of his former address just outside New Orleans.

What used to be his home has windows, one working bathroom, a damaged roof, no walls to speak of and no electricity. He’s picking away at repairs, still waiting for an insurance settlement.

“This week down there I was taking a shower with a hose behind my house at 1 in the morning,” Connell said on Monday.

It’s a long way from being home again.

The morning that evacuation orders sounded in St. Bernard Parish, La., one year ago, the couple and their children made for Maine, hastily grabbing clothes and family treasures and snapping “before” shots of both of their homes.

He has family in West Paris. They settled in Norway, one of hundreds of families that came so far north to escape Hurricane Katrina.

It only took a few months for Hall to declare it “un-American cold.” The community was great, she said, but she couldn’t wait to go back.

When the school year ended, she moved her daughter, nephew, and her and Connell’s baby to Henegar, Ala., the same area where her sisters and parents relocated. Connell started making the trips to get her house in neat-but-gutted condition to sell and his house in good enough shape for the family to return.

“I’m still dealing with my insurance company; they still haven’t paid me,” Connell said. Neither has the government come through with its Katrina settlement. It feels like a game: “If they don’t like what one adjuster says, they get another one.”

His house was damaged by wind, water and a fire that broke out in December, while the family was in Maine. In one call to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Connell said he found out his case had been labeled a “special investigation,” for reasons they won’t tell him.

“I don’t even know if the house is going to be savable,” said Hall. “Bruce is a little more patient; I’m not. I don’t tolerate people lying to me. We’ve paid enough in premiums, we’ve done our jobs. Whatever we do isn’t good enough.”

A year later, she said, the roads in her neighborhood are clear and some houses are coming back, but there’s still lots of debris and no sewer.

Their 18-month-old daughter, Aiyana, was born 12 weeks early the spring before Hurricane Katrina hit. They worry about exposing her lungs to the toxins still in the air.

For now, Hall and the kids are settling into Alabama.

“I miss the real convenience of Norway. Out here it’s a lot more spread out, real cow country. It’s still not home, but it’s a little closer to home,” she said.

“We’re hanging in there. You just take each day. The big monkey wrench was at Easter, finding out I was five months pregnant,” said Hall. It came as a complete surprise.

Hall, who hasn’t lost her humor in the last year, joked that God’s testing her to see how much she can take.

The baby girl, due in three weeks, will be named Aurora, after the northern lights.


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