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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Lets turn to another disaster, one that hit the American Gulf Coast four and a half years ago. For years on MORNING EDITION, Donald Bordelon personified the struggle to recover after Hurricane Katrina. This past week, he died. We first met Donald and his wife Colleen at home outside New Orleans. It was soon after the flood that filled the first floor of their house.

Mr. DONALD BORDELON: To tell the truth, I just got home. How you doing, man. Donald Bordelon.

INSKEEP: Ok. Im Steve.

Ms. COLLEEN BORDELON: How you doing? Im Colleen.

INSKEEP: That evening in 2005, Donald and Colleen Bordelon were throwing cabinets, furniture and drywall out of their ruined home.

Mr. DONALD BORDELON: I guess its Id have to say, 40 years of everything in your house. Years and years of just...

Ms. BORDELON: Stuff people save.

Mr. BORDELON: Its not right, you know. You know, its hard to leave something like this. It really is.

INSKEEP: Well, you havent.

Mr. BORDELON: No, not yet.

INSKEEP: They didn't leave. The Bordelons stayed in that house evening during the flood. Afterward, they remained in that dead and silent land and listened as the birds began to return.

Mr. BORDELON: First two weeks, you aint heard that. You know, when I was coming in today, man, they had about 15 or 20 doves landed up in a tree.

INSKEEP: So, for the first period, the birds were gone.

Mr. BORDELON: Oh yeah, you didnt hear nothing at all.

Ms. BORDELON: Just the dogs barking.

Mr. BORDELON: All you heard was airboats running out in the marsh, looking for bodies or whatever, you know.

Ms. BORDELON: The helicopters

Mr. BORDELON: The helicopters, thousands of them blowing my top off.

INSKEEP: In the years that followed, the Bordelons spoke with us more than a dozen times and their determination had a way of inspiring people, even though the restoration went slowly and they had to flee another hurricane and they suffered other frustrations.

Mr. BORDELON: I try to stay happy all the time, man, but its the big old mess down here, you know. Give us another holler back in couple of months, you know, we'll see where we at then. I might be crying next time, I might be screaming and hollering, I might be locked up in jail, I dont know.

INSKEEP: Some people might wonder why the Bordelons would go through the agony of fixing up a house below sea level. But it was their home, where Donald grew up, over the years they slowly brought it back.

Mr. BORDELON: Oh, yeah, the inside coming out nice, you know. Got the TV, the cable in, all the furnitures pretty much in, you know.

INSKEEP: So, just for the record, for people to know, if you happen to have your house completely flooded out by a major hurricane, it only takes you about two years to get back in order.

Mr. BORDELON: Well, maybe three years.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BORDELON: We still don't regular telephone service in this area. INSKEEP: They don't?

Mr. BORDELON: Nope. Still ain't got phone lines yet. They working on it, though. I'd say another two or three months, maybe, you know.

INSKEEP: The renovation was nearly done last week when Donald fell out of bed. Hed suffered a heart attack at age 53. After the funeral we spoke with Colleen Bordelon who said she thought talking might help. She said Donald always felt better when he spoke with us, which was surprising. We always thought it was the Bordelons who made us feel better. Colleen spoke from inside the house, and she remembered when she was a teenager, a friend asked about a certain boy.

Ms. BORDELON: And she says you know that boy, Donald, what you thought about him? I said, oh, his eyes are gorgeous, blue eyes, you know, hunk of a guy. And she says, well, he called me, he said he wanted to get to know you more. Can he come over? And I said sure. And then that was it - ever since.

INSKEEP: Decades later, Colleen remembered everything about that young man, even Donalds scent.

Ms. BORDELON: In his casket I put a bottle of Brute, you know. You know, the cologne, Brute. Thats what he wore when we met. You know, and you danced close together and all I could was just smell his clothes, he smelled so good. And the Wednesday before he died, you know, when I got in the bed, I just grabbed his T-shirt and smelled it and I fell asleep. Like it used to say, the zing was there, it never left.

INSKEEP: Is there some way that Donald Bordelon is always going to be in that house?

Ms. BORDELON: Oh, everywhere I look, everywhere I look.

INSKEEP: Well, is that a good feeling or a hard feeling right now?

Ms. BORDELON: Oh, its a terrific feeling. I know he is always here.

INSKEEP: Donald Bordelon accomplished what he set out to do. He lived his entire life at home.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: You can comment on the Bordelons at npr.org. We will send your comments to the family.

Its NPR News.

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