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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 September 2005, 08:47 GMT 09:47 UK
A New Orleans family in limbo
By Matthew Davis
BBC News website in Baton Rouge

The BBC News website talks to one of many families forced to leave New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and now temporarily housed in nearby Baton Rouge.

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

The Martinolichs are staying in a hotel with 100-odd rooms, that probably contains about 1,000 people.

Children chase each other along the corridors to beat the boredom. Dogs bark day and night. Tempers fray. Small disagreements flare into shouting matches between guests.

But the family count themselves lucky.

Nine of them are crammed into a room meant for three, while they wait for the chance to get back to their New Orleans home.

"I feel like we have got so much to be grateful for," says Geralyn Martinolich. "People have been really nice to us, we can't complain. We are crammed into a room, but at least we are not on television saying 'help me find my mother'."

Strewn with debris

Like thousands in the Louisiana city of Baton Rouge, some 70 miles from New Orleans, the family want a swift end to their state of limbo.

The Martinolich's house in the Metairie district of New Orleans
Mould is starting to gain a foothold in the family's house
"This is the first time we have ever left," says Geralyn. "Friends were waiting on what we were going to do. When we decided to go, they all came out too."

Armed with an address, the BBC found the family's home in New Orleans' Metairie district, a neighbourhood littered with fallen trees, broken power lines and debris from damaged houses.

A number of homeowners had managed to return for the day - somehow evading police checkpoints - to make repairs and clean up their homes.

Their driveways were stacked with black rubbish bags, ruined carpets and discarded refrigerators now contaminated by rotten meat and fish.

We have lived there all our lives, it is the heart and soul of the neighbourhood
Maia Martinolich
At the Martinolich house, a metal basketball hoop and pole lay twisted on the ground, a testament to the force of the storm.

The back of the house had been hit by a tree. Mould had infiltrated some of the family's living areas.

Geralyn's daughter Maia, 21, is worried.

"It's the only home I have ever had, I don't want to move. We have lived there all our lives, it is the heart and soul of the neighbourhood.

"We are real home-bodies. We never go on holiday. This is our first family trip away, and we are evacuating!"

Although she is a student, Maia has lost the bar job that helped pay her way through school.

Marie Oddo
Grandmother Marie Oddo says having a close family is a help
But even going to classes will be impossible now. The college has told her that online classes only will be on offer for the foreseeable future.

"I am more concerned about only having two tops to wear," she says. "I thought we would be back in a couple of days."

For Marie Oddo, Maia's grandmother, the upheaval is an adventure.

"I am appreciative of all the efforts people have made," says the 75-year-old.

"It is not so bad here. It would be a lot worse if we didn't have such a close family."

'Unluckiest man'

Bob Oddo, Geralyn's brother, only found the family after a week of trying to get in contact - despite staying just a few blocks away in Baton Rouge.

The Hurricane Katrina disaster has capped an awful period of life for the postal service worker.

Two years ago he lost a son. Then his first granddaughter was born with Down's Syndrome. Months later his wife Lilian was diagnosed with cancer and has been undergoing chemotherapy.

Lilian and Bob Oddo
Lilian and Bob Oddo have suffered a series of misfortunes
Now their house is standing in two feet of water, and is expected to be uninhabitable.

"I feel like the unluckiest man in the world, right now," he told the BBC.

Lilian, who works in a hair salon, says she is not sure what the future holds.

"We have an awful lot to sort out. It will be heartbreaking to see our home again for the first time."

As she speaks, Geralyn's husband calls.

He has managed to reach the house and is encouraged that the damage can be repaired.

But the date they can return is still unknown. For now, the family will have to live the best they can with uncertainty hanging over their heads like a cloud.


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