A Family Remembers The Storm

It has been almost five years since Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast. Morris and Mary Martin, former residents of the Ninth Ward in New Orleans, were among the thousands of people who fled the city after the storm. From their new home in Jackson, Miss., the Martins reflect on how their lives were changed.

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ALLISON KEYES, host:

This is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. I'm Allison Keyes. Michel Martin is away.

All this week, TELL ME MORE is marking the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's ferocious sweep through the Gulf Coast. In a few minutes, we'll talk about some of the indelible images picked up by one Louisiana photographer, who also happens to be an urban planner, in the middle of the reconstruction of an urban disaster.

But first, as you know, the hurricane claimed the lives of more than 1,400 people, and displaced over a million more. We thought this would be a good time to check in on one of the families we met and have been following since the storm.

Mary and Morris Martin are former residents of the Ninth Ward in New Orleans, where they lost almost all of their possessions in the aftermath of the hurricane. The Morris family, including a bevy of grandchildren, has since settled in Jackson, Mississippi, and Mary and Morris join us from their home there.

Thanks for talking to us.

Ms. MARY MARTIN: Thank you.

Ms. MORRIS MARTIN: Thank you all for having us.

KEYES: Mrs. Martin, before the storm, you were living in a five-bedroom house in New Orleans that your husband's family built. But when we last spoke in 2007, you were living with 14 of your grandchildren in a three-bedroom house with one bathroom in Jackson. What are things there - like there now?

Ms. MARTIN: Well, everything is still the same. We still have all of the kids.

KEYES: Wait - how many are there now, altogether?

Ms. MARTIN: It's 17. They range from 19 to two.

KEYES: And you and your husband.

Ms. MARTIN: Yes. We still have to stand in line to use the restroom, take a bath.

KEYES: Can you believe that this is still what you're living with five years later? Did you think it was going to be better by now?

Ms. MARTIN: I thought, you know, everything would have changed. I would have been able to add on and get another bathroom, so the kids wouldn't have to be pushed. You know, but that hasn't happened for us, so we just have to make do with what we have.

KEYES: Mr. Martin, I just wanted to ask you, when I came to visit you guys before, you said that living in Mississippi just wasn't the same, and it was never going to be the same. And it's a few years after that. I wonder, do you feel differently?

Mr. MARTIN: No. It's nothing like at home. It's real different living in Mississippi than in New Orleans. New Orleans is 24 hours a day. Mississippi is a half a day.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEYES: I actually just stood in front of your house on Flood Street in the Lower Ninth Ward, and sent you guys some pictures. Did you have a chance to look at them?

Mr. MARTIN: Yeah, I looked at them. And it kind of got to me a little bit. I just got to try to find some kind of way to get down there and clean up the yard and stuff, so I can start doing some work on there when I get some money.

KEYES: You'd still like to be back there?

Mr. MARTIN: Oh, yeah. (technical difficulties)

KEYES: Mrs. Martin, I want to ask you the same thing I just asked your husband, about your neighborhood.

Ms. MARTIN: It's just devastated me to see all of this here, because I had not been back there to see what it looked like or anything, and to see the grass and my brand new door that I had just put up is - it just hurted(ph) me a little bit.

KEYES: Why haven't you all been able to move back? You still own the property, right?

Ms. MARTIN: Well, the money that we had got, we had to take and pay our bills out here, you know, to do things for these kids that we had. And we just haven't had enough to really start doing all the things that we had to do because we didn't have nothing when we moved out here.

KEYES: Do you think that the government - and by government, I mean New Orleans, I mean Louisiana, I mean the federal government - should be doing more to help families like you that want to go back?

Ms. MARTIN: Well, I think they need to help, like my mother house, the road home - FEMA, they didn't give my daughter anything. We did secessions and all kind of stuff, you know, trying to get assistance to help my child rebuild her home back that was destroyed, totally. My uncle, they did give him some, but it wasn't what we think his house was worth. And he lost his wife 12 days after the storm. You know, I think it's taken more of a toll on me now than it did. I think reality is really setting in with me about what we lost.

KEYES: Mrs. Martin, I hate to upset you by asking you this, but you sound almost sadder today than you did when I spoke to you three years ago. Are you at all happy with your situation now?

Ms. MARTIN: Right now, I make my happiness with the kids. You know, I'm just glad that we had saved the kids, brought them, because we could have been lost in the storm, too.

(Soundbite of sniffling)

KEYES: I'm sorry.

Ms. MARTIN: You know, I never went back after the storm to see anything. You know, what people told me about my house, you know, I just accepted what they told me.

KEYES: So you hadn't seen it until the pictures.

Ms. MARTIN: No.

KEYES: Hey, Mr. Martin.

Mr. MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

KEYES: I just want to ask you one more question, and I just asked your wife the same thing. She said that she - well, basically, she feels almost worse than she did a few years ago because you guys hadn't seen what the house looked like. And I wonder, is there anything about Jackson that makes you feel that this is a place that you could live, or are you always just going to miss your other house?

Mr. MARTIN: Well, more than likely, it'll be missed for the rest of our lives, because we spent all of our lives down there. And we just now barely getting used to Jackson now, because we haven't been here no longer than, oh, I guess since '06. Our neighbors in New Orleans always was visiting. We'd holler across the street or next door, and the neighbors out here, they barely - you know, barely speak. Maybe they rather be to theyself(ph) than standing up holding a conversation with you.

KEYES: Mary and Morris Martin and former residents of the Ninth Ward in New Orleans, where they lost just about everything during Hurricane Katrina. They joined us from the tiny home they share with their grandchildren in Jackson, Mississippi. Thank you both for checking in with us, and we wish you all the best of luck.

Mr. MARTIN: Okay. Thank you for calling.

KEYES: To see the pictures we talked about - those of the Martin's house on Flood Street in the Ninth Ward, and that's really the name of the street - go to NPR.org and click on Programs page to reach TELL ME MORE.

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