The Bordelons Hang on to Home

Colleen and Donald Bordelon stand on the newly repaired roof of their home in St. Bernard Parish. Cheryl Gerber for NPR hide caption

Watch an audio slideshow on a day in the life of New Orleans, featuring the Bordelons.
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In Depth

Donald and Colleen Bordelon remain in their home in St. Bernard Parish near New Orleans, a year after Hurricane Katrina's flood waters gutted their neighborhood.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Hurricane Katrina changed a lot along the Gulf Coast, but one thing remains the same here: the Bordelons are still holding onto their home.

Mr. DONALD BORDELON: Hey, come on in. Right here, buddy. Oh, man, another (unintelligible) days, man.

INSKEEP: The anniversary of Katrina was approaching when we paid a visit to Donald Bordelon and his wife Colleen.

(Soundbite of people talking)

Ms. COLLEEN BORDELON: Give me a hug. We don't do handshakes anymore; we do hugs.

INSKEEP: Okay. Oh, it's great to see you again. It's great to see you.

They've been regular guests on this program ever since last fall. That's when the flood receded and it became apparent that the Bordelons had outlasted it. They'd stayed in their house for weeks, even as water climbed up near their second floor.

Afterward, the Bordelons remained almost alone. Night after night, their generator provided almost the only light in their part of St. Bernard Parish. They're still living there today with Donald's parents in a pair of trailers and slowly repairing the house on their own.

So, what are you guys working on today?

Mr. BORDELON: Today, right now, man...

Ms. BORDELON: (Unintelligible) bathtub.

Mr. BORDELON: ...I'm putting a bathtub in right here. Maybe next week or the following week, we'll have the man come do the sheetrock, you know.

INSKEEP: Have you guys taken a vacation?

Mr. BORDELON: Yeah, we sure did. We went to Baton Rouge three weeks ago, spent the weekend by my daughter's and we worked up there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: Fixing somebody else's house?

Mr. BORDELON: (Unintelligible) I hung a couple of ceiling fans up. We cut the grass. You know, and that was a vacation to us, you know.

INSKEEP: You must need a break from this sometimes. I mean...

Mr. BORDELON: Where you want to go? (Unintelligible)? We was thinking about...

Ms. BORDELON: What?

Mr. BORDELON: ...having a picnic...

Ms. BORDELON: Oh, on our anniv--

Mr. BORDELON: ...on the anniversary of Katrina. I'm thinking about putting my flatboat right out here. We're gonna put the top up, man, put a barbeque pit in the flatboat and just sit right here on a trailer in the ground and have a barbeque, you know.

INSKEEP: To see how much has changed in the neighborhood since the floodwaters receded, the Bordelons led us upstairs just as they had when we first met them last October. We climbed up through a window and onto their newly installed roof.

Mr. BORDELON: Oh, it feels good up here, huh? There's a nice little breeze blowing. Keep an eye on our neighborhood.

INSKEEP: The breeze did feel good, though the roof was so hot under the sun that you could feel it through your shoes. A few of the Bordelons' neighbors are also repairing their homes - a few of them.

Mr. BORDELON: Right here was a house. It's gone. They're gonna tear that one down. They're gonna tear that one down. Maybe the next one, you know. We'll have plenty of green space.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BORDELON: Yeah.

Mr. BORDELON: Just gonna be lots, you know.

INSKEEP: Whose house was this, right over here, that's now just a slab?

Mr. BORDELON: That was a friend of ours...

Ms. BORDELON: Joycelan(ph).

Mr. BORDELON: Joycelan. You know, a little older, too. She's not coming back. It's too much.

INSKEEP: Sometimes a little anger and sadness slips through the Bordelons' good cheer. It happened to Donald when I asked how he tells a good day from a bad one.

Mr. BORDELON: Just like walking up here. I was downstairs, you know. Didn't have none of this - none of this was in my mind till you walk back up here and you see what's going on, you know. I mean, in the house, you rebuild and everything's fine, you know. You walk outside, all the grass is cut, you know. It's rough, buddy.

INSKEEP: So a good day's when you get a lot done downstairs and a bad day's when I make you come upstairs and look around (unintelligible).

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BORDELON: No, no, no. It's just, you know, if I get my bathtub finished today, it'd been...

Ms. BORDELON: That's...

Mr. and Ms. BORDELON: ...a good day.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BORDELON: You know, if I get all the plumbing put on out, you know, it's a good day to me.

INSKEEP: Donald Bordelon says he knows some people might see him as crazy, but he insists he might not live below sea level forever. He survived the flood of 1965 and the flood of 2005, both times in his childhood home. The Bordelons decided, though, that if another big hurricane strikes New Orleans, three will be their limit.

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