Maxine Harris and family
David Friedman  /
Maxine Harris and her family pose outside their home in Westwego, La. From left, nephew Carlos Page, sister Vivian Page, grandson Charles Harris, Maxine Harris, husband John Harris, and nephews Solomon and Corey Page.
By Kari Huus Reporter
updated 8/28/2006 6:39:43 AM ET 2006-08-28T10:39:43

In the six months since the storm, Maxine Harris has been frustrated, but she never lost heart. Perseverance pays. Last week, her insurance company told her that the check is in the mail.

Taking into account slow mail delivery in the area, she figures she'll have it in her hands any day now. At last she can begin home repairs in earnest, and that means beating back the mold, replacing the sheet rock and the leaking roof. How much she will receive, she is unsure, but again, there's the faith:

"I felt like I was going to be very much taken care of," she says. "Everything is coming around pretty good. … It's slow, but everything is falling in place."

Maxine Harris has never stopped for long to feel sorry for herself, even though when we met her in a Red Cross shelter near Natchez, Miss., she had no idea what damage her house had sustained. But she hadn't lost any loved ones — she had orchestrated the mass departure of her extended family — and she knew that one way or another she would head home and make it work. And so it has.

As it turned out, the house in Westwego, La. was damaged by floodwaters and wind, but inhabitable. So Harris and her family had somewhere to live while taking advantage of plentiful work generated by the reconstruction of the greater New Orleans area.

Now she shuttles between two part-time jobs that add up to about 50 hours a week. Part of the time she is a home-health care worker, as she was before the disaster. Her other job is serving up "sandwiches, fish, whatever" at a little restaurant attached to a store.

"There's good money out here," she says. "I figure I might as well get it while the getting is good."

Slowly but surely, Harris' neighbors are coming back, she says. Many of them are now living in FEMA trailers on their properties as they work on their homes.

As always, she's optimistic, and convinced that she's in control of her own fate, even in the face of natural catastrophe and difficult bureaucracy.

"I guess our lives would stay on hold unless you do something about it," says Harris.

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