Six Months After Katrina: A Family Reflects The Smith family was uprooted from New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina. The five family members share how their lives have changed since their move to Texas.
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Six Months After Katrina: A Family Reflects

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Six Months After Katrina: A Family Reflects

Six Months After Katrina: A Family Reflects

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Alex Chadwick. In the six months since Hurricane Katrina devastated much of the Gulf Coast, reporter Joshua Levs has been following one New Orleans family, the Smiths, as they tried to recover from the damage to their lives. Now, Josh has asked each person to write about what has changed.

JOSHUA LEVS reporting:

It was a challenging task, but one the Smith family willingly delved into. Chiquita Smith and her three children sat around the dining table one evening at their home in McKinney, Texas, and quietly put their thoughts on paper. Selwyn, the father, was off in New Orleans, grappling with the family's damaged property. They all, in their own words, summarized what they've been through. First, Chiquita:

Ms. CHIQUITA SMITH: Very confusing and complicated are words that come to my mind when I think about my life after Katrina. It's very difficult to respond to something that you're still going through. Some people seem to think that everyone in New Orleans needed to move away. And they feel that we should just jump right in to our new lives and just be happy. I have family and friends that help to complete my life, that are now miles and miles away.

LEVS: Chiquita wrote about bills piling up, and the difficult search for contractors back in New Orleans to fix their property. The home they lived in was destroyed, and the home they had saved up for years to buy, and were just about to move into, was damaged. Chiquita wrote that you just have to grin and bear it, but she also noted a positive side:

Ms. C. SMITH: That I've had a chance to meet some great people, people that genuinely care. I'd like to say that I possess some of those same characteristics, too.

LEVS: The oldest child, Kionte, has had a tough time accepting what happened in New Orleans, and adjusting to life in Texas. She's 14, and in the ninth grade.

Ms. KIONTE SMITH: Before Katrina, I was always full of life and energy. I could make my worstest day one of my best. I'm now going up to a different school, and the hardest part is making new friends all over again. I'm kind of a shy person, and it's hard for me to loosen up. But now things at school are getting much better for me.

LEVS: Her brother, 12 year old Selwyn, Jr., has had the easiest time adjusting to the new life, partly because the people around him share his passion.

Mr. SELWYN SMITH, JR.: Football is big in Texas, and the teams are way more dedicated. I play for a team called the North Texas Falcons. I think we're pretty good, and I have a couple of really good friends on the team.

LEVS: The images of destruction back in New Orleans have left an imprint for him and his whole family. The Smiths have been back twice to visit. They talk about moving back someday. Selwyn, Jr., doesn't like the idea.

Mr. S. SMITH, JR.: I'm not looking forward to moving back to New Orleans, because of all of the natural disasters that's been happening. Although, I still miss my home.

LEVS: The youngest, 10-year old Tremaine, wrote that everything is different now, even the bed he sleeps in.

Mr. TREMAINE SMITH: I also attend a different school, with different teachers, and I had to learn to make new friends. I don't like to start over. It makes me mad and sad.

LEVS: After he read that for us, I asked him what makes him sad. He said, the new friendships are different.

Mr. T. SMITH: Like, since I've been in New Orleans my whole life, I can, like, trust my friends more.

LEVS: His father, Selwyn, flew back in from New Orleans, a trip he's been making every couple of weeks, with thoughts on his mind about how drastically life has changed. He wrote some of those thoughts down, like a journal. He said, since he's constantly worrying about insurance adjustments and salvaging what they have left in New Orleans, life feels like work.

Mr. SELWYN SMITH: Monday through Friday, you've got certain things you do--the weekends, you've got certain things you do. And I tend to try to be as organized as I could, you know, to get more things accomplished, and really, to work smart. But it's hard. It's a 24-hour job.

LEVS: Over the last six months, we've watched the family go through upheaval, first fleeing from New Orleans, to a hotel in Atlanta, then meeting up with family members in Texas, then moving to McKinney to be near relatives. Every step brings new challenges, and Selwyn says it's impossible to look ahead.

Mr. S. SMITH: When I was right out of high school, I worked at a Payless shoe store, and became manager. One of the questions when we interviewed people, we used to always say, where do you see yourself in the next five years? That question right there, I don't even have an answer for right now.

LEVS: And that may be the biggest way the Smith's lives have changed. Six months ago, they figured New Orleans would always be their home.

For NPR News, I'm Joshua Levs.

CHADWICK: You can read the Smith family's reflections on how Hurricane Katrina has changed their lives, and follow their story from the beginning at our website, npr.org.

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