IMAGE: MOLDY HOUSE IN NEW ORLEANS
Debby Stone  /  Special to MSNBC.com
A mold-encrusted bedroom in James Stromberg's ruined house in New Orleans.
By Mike Brunker Projects Team editor
msnbc.com
updated 9/5/2006 4:23:41 PM ET 2006-09-05T20:23:41

A New Orleans homeowner who abandoned his house shortly before Hurricane Katrina flooded it to the eaves suffered another shock to his system when he received a whopping $1,048.94 water bill in the mail.

James Stromberg, who is now living in Martinsburg, W. Va., said he was knocked for a loop when he opened the bill from the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans last week.

“I kind of laughed a little and thought to myself, ‘Must be my last water bill. I'll just pay it real fast and wash my hands of this whole mess,’ he said. “Then I opened it up.

“I think it took me several minutes to actually begin breathing again. I can't believe I'm being charged this much for the water bill on a house I've not lived in for an entire year. … This is madness.”

Repeated calls by MSNBC.com to the Sewerage and Water Board for comment on the case were not returned.

Stromberg, 35, said he returned to the badly molded house that he shared with his wife, Terry, only once in October to grab some possessions that he had stored in the attic and didn’t think to turn off the utilities since they weren’t working at the time.

He said he’s hoping to sell the property on Edward Street in New Orleans East, but isn’t sure how much he’ll be able to get for it.

“It’s a total loss,” he said. “... You’d have to demolish it and rebuild from scratch.”

In the meantime, Stromberg and his wife, Terry, are trying to get their lives back on track in West Virginia, where he landed a job with the Internal Revenue Service.

He said it took him just that one brief visit to his New Orleans home to rule out returning to the Crescent City.

“I just don’t have it in me,” he said. “I really just can’t see myself going through everything that I would need to go through to start things up again back there.”

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