Letters Listeners write in about how their lives have changed a year after Hurricane Katrina destroyed homes along the Gulf Coast.


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It's Tuesday, the day we read from your e-mails. Yesterday we talked with some of the hundreds of thousands of people who fled the Gulf Coast because of Hurricane Katrina. Lots of you e-mailed your own stories.

My wife and I are now in Northern California, wrote Steve Alphono(ph). Right after Katrina hit, we left New Orleans with three days of clothing. We watched the levees break on TV from a hotel in Arkansas and then drove to California and stayed with relatives until we could return to our house. We were lucky -our house had sustained minimal damage. We sold our house in November and moved to California without a home or a job. Our lives were changed forever by Katrina.

Another listener, Scott(ph), stayed in New Orleans. I live just outside the French Quarter, he e-mailed, and was one of the fortunate ones that had almost no damage to my home. We as a community desperately need people to come back to the city. The major hurdle is the obvious lack of housing stock. However, the city, even in the, quote, unaffected areas, is still a mess with piles of garbage lining the streets. How can the city rebuild if simple services such as trash pickup are still unavailable or ineffective? Before people can be expected to come back, we need the city government to step up to the plate.

Last week we talked with other survivors of the hurricane and asked: Can sharing these painful stories help you heal? Listener Shana Leonard(ph) e-mailed us to tell us we missed something in the conversation: the healing effect of storytelling on the listeners.

Our entire nation, she wrote, has been indirectly but strongly affected by traumatic events in this country. The act of listening gives us the opportunity to learn, to care, and to achieve the community and connection we long for. By listening, we partake in shared grieving of loss and celebration of survival. Story listening can be as healing to the listener as storytelling is to the teller.

There are more e-mails like these, and if you want to learn more about how Katrina escapees live now and their hopes for the future, visit our Web site. Go to npr.org and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

We also talked last week about the slowing housing market around the country. The three rules of real estate still hold. When it comes to specific prices, it's all about location, location, location. But the trend across the country as a whole is definitely down.

Jason Warrener(ph) e-mailed that none of this came as a surprise to him. I knew it was a bubble when suddenly everyone became a real estate agent and real estate schools popped up everywhere.

Another listener found the silver lining in the gloomy housing report. As far as I'm concerned, wrote Virginia(ph) in California, the housing crash just means an affordable house in my future. It also means a bit of an attitude adjustment for those mortgage-owners in my neighborhood who have literally shunned my husband and I for being, quote, transient renters.

And we ended last week with a conversation about the rules of good gratuity: when to tip, how much to leave and who makes up all these rules, anyway. Diana Cheehawk(ph) listened in Hamburg, New York and e-mailed with a tip of her own.

A good rule of thumb, she wrote, is that you tip on a service, not a good. So if someone simply sells you an item, there is no tip due. But if they are providing a service as well, then you tip. And if someone provides a good but goes out of their way to do something above and beyond, then that is a service and you can and should tip on that as well.

And if you have comments, questions, or corrections for us, the best way to reach us is by e-mail. Our address is talk@npr.org. Please let us know where you're writing from and tell us how to pronounce your name.

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