Video: Katrina families face stay-or-go question

By Mike Taibbi Correspondent
NBC News
updated 11/21/2005 7:36:01 PM ET 2005-11-22T00:36:01

Thousands of Hurricane Katrina evacuees who have come back home to work while living in temporary housing are under pressure to decide now whether it's even worth trying to salvage their wrecked homes and bring their families back. There’s pressure, because of bills coming due and because their families are settling down, often in other states.

One such family is the Spearses of east New Orleans.

Their insurance adjuster had nothing but bad news, telling Ed Spears, “The ceiling is completely collapsed.”

That came as no surprise, really. Spears already knew his house was basically in ruins. But the likely insurance check was a real reality check.

“Building a house from scratch is going to be a lot more than $40,000,” he says.

So Spears, a 32-year-old Chamber of Commerce dynamo NBC News first met at a “Rebuild New Orleans” job fair, is himself thinking of abandoning his hometown. 

“It's hard to hold on,” he says, “when you don’t know what you are holding onto anymore.”

It's even harder when your family is somewhere else. Spears' five kids and his wife, Suzette, have been living in Fort Worth, Texas, since Katrina.

“It's just exhausting to think about the enormity of our situation,” says Suzette.

How enormous? A house, a car and a First Savings account with a little more than $1,000 are gone. And with the grace period from most creditors ending after three months, the bills — including the mortgage — are now coming due.

And not just for Ed Spears. All of his neighbors got wiped out, and they come from a city and region where people just hate to leave; 77 percent are native born — far more than in any other Southern city.

But thousands of New Orleans families who love their city and who loved their homes, love each other more. Like the Spearses.

“You know how they say some people are attached at the hip?” Ed Spears asks. “Well, my wife and I are like that.”

“He's my best friend, really,” says Suzette.

“We finish each other's sentences,” Ed says.

“I miss him a lot,” says Spears’ son Eddie. “I really miss him,” adds daughter Elizabeth.

And now Suzette has a teaching assistant's job in Fort Worth, and the kids are settling there, making friends. When Dad joined the family for Thanksgiving week, the decision for a new life in Texas was just about made.

“I can't see staying very much longer without them,” Ed says. “We're talking weeks.”

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