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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 December 2005, 13:46 GMT
Katrina victims - where are they now?
By Matthew Davis
BBC News, New Orleans

The BBC News website catches up with victims of Hurricane Katrina from New Orleans to find out how they are getting on, three months after floodwaters engulfed the city.



Kappa Horn at Slim Goodies Diner
Kappa Horn was determined to carry on, despite the chaos

When the BBC met Kappa in September, she had just returned to New Orleans to reopen her cafe, Slim Goodies Diner.

Armed with cases of bottled water and a few boxes of blueberries, she was determined it would be business as usual, despite the debris-strewn streets, the lack of power and absence of customers.


It is lunchtime and Slim Goodies is packed. The customers are a mixture of local residents, officers from the nearby police station and people using the now bustling road outside. It feels like part-restaurant, part community centre.

Kappa is serving her customers, chatting with regulars and trying to supervise her staff.

Kappa Horn at Slim Goodies Diner
Kappa Horn uses paper plates now to save on washing up

After Katrina knocked out the electricity it was impossible to keep anything cool in the Louisiana climate. Today the heat comes from the stove which is on the go all day.

It isn't helping Kappa's hangover, the after-effect of a night out in the French Quarter.

"I'm not the best waitress at the best of times," she says, leaning affectionately on a diner. "But today I am bad."

The menu is a lot shorter than it once was and she is now serving food on paper plates to save paying someone to wash up.

But Slim Goodies is getting back on its feet - both as somewhere to get a decent pancake, and as somewhere to meet.

"At first we were just giving people whatever we had, and they have all been wonderful," she says.

"But life feels a lot smaller. I've lost friends and family who are just not coming back to the city. It is not just me, it's everyone. We are here, but it still feels like a disaster."



Nicole Jonson
Nicole Jonson is staying in Houston for at least another six months

When her home in the Lower Ninth Ward was destroyed in the flooding, Nicole Johnson was evacuated to Houston, Texas.

There she, her autistic son and her mother found themselves staying alongside thousands of other people, on the floor of a sports arena.


Like scores of others, Nicole spent weeks wrangling with red tape, desperately trying to get out of the emergency shelter into permanent housing.

Before and after

Frustrated by delays and a process that seemed inefficient, she also faced a full-time job looking after her son.

But Houston - where tens of thousands of Katrina victims ended up - has begun to seem more like a potential home.

"My situation has got a lot better," she says. "Once I got out of the Astrodome, Houston seemed like a much better place.

"My son is now enrolled in one of the schools here, so we won't be going anywhere until May at the earliest."

The 23-year-old had just signed up for a college course before the storm hit New Orleans, but the prospect of studying there now seems a distant one.

"I still want to go back to New Orleans, but there has to be something to go back to," she says.



John Hyman
John Hyman refused to leave the city during the hurricane

John Hyman, a British ex-pat, was the last resident left in his block in New Orleans' French Quarter, which escaped the worst of the flooding.

John stayed through the storm and its aftermath, despite attempts by the police and army to get him to leave.


The soldiers on patrol have been replaced by painters and decorators, and the military vehicles by trucks carrying planks of wood and ladders.

Rue Dauphine smells of fresh paint rather than rotting rubbish, and John's house is cooled by air-conditioning, not sweltering in the heat.

John Hyman
New Orleans will come back smaller and better, Mr Hyman believes

"The electricity came on four weeks and five hours after it was cut off," he says with precision.

He says it has been very emotional seeing friends and neighbours coming back for the first time since the hurricane, yet John regrets the fact that the place he fell in love with 30 years ago no longer feels the same.

"Some of the really good musicians are coming back for days at a time, to play a few gigs, but not many are living here - the problem is there is nowhere for them to stay," he says.

"A lot of the contract workers and so on who are here for a project but don't seem to have a feel for New Orleans and what it is all about.

"They are working hard but when they have finished for the day all they care about is getting drunk as fast as possible."

John is music captain for a 900-strong Mardi Gras group - Krewe du Vieux - the only krewe to parade through the French Quarter, and one of the most satirical groups.

He is already lining up musicians to parade in February, and says the federal government is likely to come in for some scathing humour because of its response to the disaster.

"I felt from the start that New Orleans would not come back bigger and better, but smaller and better," he says. "I still think that is likely to be what will happen."



The Martinolich family
Nine family members lived in a hotel room meant for three

After Katrina struck, the Martinolich family were evacuated to Baton Rouge, where they were living nine to a room in a hotel.

Their home in Metarie escaped the flood waters, but was damaged by high winds and rain.


When Lester Martinolich built the family home with his father, the law didn't require him to use much metal in the construction. But he is glad that they fortified the framework anyway, because it saved the house from Katrina's destruction.

In any event the damage done is substantial enough. Winds ripped a hole in the roof and water got in.

Lester has ripped most of the interior walls down to the struts and reckons it will be next Christmas before the house is fully repaired.

The Martinolich family
Things are almost normal but not quite, says Geralyn (second left)

His children are now sleeping in a caravan parked on the drive. Everyone else is making do in the house.

But a bit of discomfort hasn't stopped them embracing what is left of normal life, especially after six weeks of living in each other's pockets.

"It is easy to lose track of the days, because everything is still upside down," says Geralyn Martinolich, who is working 12-hour days with Lester on the family's floor-covering business.

"Things are almost normal, but not quite, and that just makes life seem weird."

A couple of weeks ago, Lester discovered that his uncle, 70, had perished in the flooding in East New Orleans.

Water reached the attic of his home, and it was three weeks before his body was removed. The body has still not been released for burial.

"My work takes me all over the city, and I have seen the devastation," he says. "Several times I have just burst out crying. I went to see the house I was born in, and it takes your breath away."


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