By Kari Huus Reporter
updated 8/28/2006 6:39:43 AM ET 2006-08-28T10:39:43

Maxine Harris, 48, Westwego, La. Married and the owner of an insured house worth approximately $90,000.

In many ways, things are fine for Maxine Harris. Her home escaped the worst of what Katrina had to offer, and she is by nature an optimist in the face of adversity. Her family is back in the house, she and her husband are back at work, and the kids were able to return to their old schools. Still, it's not what she'd describe as back to normal, and it is definitely taking a toll.

For one thing, the damage is actually worse than it seemed when Maxine initially returned home. Her neighborhood suffered damage mainly from wind and rain. At her house, the most obvious damage was holes in the roof and the downed fence.

The battle with mold came later, however. Now there are several rooms that have to be stripped of the sheetrock, down to the studs. She was able to salvage some rugs by cleaning but some carpets were too nasty and had to be thrown out. Appliances aren't functioning right either, and the washer has already been replaced.

Another problem: Anything that gets done has to be done out-of-pocket, because so far, there's no action from the insurance company. The insurance company's silence is infuriating to her after 18 years of paying premiums.

"It’s like a fairy tale," says Harris. "They come in and take all your information. Then they say they’ll contact you. Then you never hear anything."

In her neighborhood, she says, she's in good company.

"Insurance companies aren’t coming through for anybody. The hurricane came and took everybody’s roof. It’s a roof thing around here. This is unbelievable."

'I clean, I clean, I clean'
Maxine and her husband are getting by on less income than they were used to, too. As a home-health-care worker, she has only one client right now. Several other elderly people she was taking care of have not returned to the area since Katrina.

So Harris has paid for some of the work, but she can't afford to repair the roof or replace the sheetrock, so those projects are on hold, awaiting insurance money. Meantime, she does a lot of scrubbing to keep the mold at bay, and hopes that it doesn't harm anyone's health.

"I clean, I clean, I clean," she says.

And, while Harris is pressing to get her family back on track, the neighborhood where she has lived for years lags behind. She estimates that half of her neighbors have not returned. Many old friends are absent.

Ironically, though, the stores and gas stations are packed. There are lines and traffic everywhere, she says. "Really it’s stressful. When you do go out to shop, it’s a headache."

She says she's disappointed, but as always, she's not willing to let it get to her too much. "I guess we just have to roll with the punches," she says.

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