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Andre Dunn: Reconsidering burned bridges

Though he has established his family in a new home in Lawrenceville, Ga., Hurricane Katrina outcast Andre Dunn is reconsidering his decision to leave his native New Orleans for good.
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Andre Dunn, 38, married owner of a partly insured house worth approximately $150,000 on Urquhart Street, in the Seventh Ward of New Orleans. Now relocated to Lawrenceville, Ga.

The pull of “home” is strong, and Andre Dunn and his family are feeling its gravity 500 miles away in Lawrenceville, Ga.

The New Orleans native and head of an extended clan of hurricane refugees swore that he was done with the Crescent City after his house in New Orleans’ 7th Ward was inundated by the flood unleashed by Hurricane Katrina. But with his wife, Trenell, and their younger kids, he’s back in the city of his birth this week for Mardi Gras reunions with family and friends and pondering whether the attraction is stronger than his resolve to stay away from that city that five months ago he described as “a deathtrap.”

“I’m just waiting, deciding what road to take,” he says of the juncture where he finds himself six months after the monster storm.

Dunn says he’s happy in the family’s new home northeast of Atlanta, especially the schools and the quiet, which he says is a sharp contrast to New Orleans.

But his wife “doesn’t like it too much out here. She thinks it’s too quiet.” As for the kids, “They’re making friends, but it’s not like home,” he says.

He also says the reception he and his family have received in Lawrenceville hasn’t always been warm.

“People hear a few bad stories and think most people are freeloaders,” he says. “I don’t focus on that. I’ve got to live for the family. I can’t worry about what people think.”

Dunn, who held four jobs in New Orleans but has yet to find work in Lawrenceville, has a bit of breathing room to figure out his next step. He purchased a home using emergency aid from FEMA, and the insurance company that had a policy on his wrecked home in New Orleans has agreed to pay the mortgage on the new house through March.

But at the same time, financial pressure is mounting, with creditors hounding him by phone in an effort to keep collecting on pre-storm credit card debts that Dunn says he can’t pay at the moment.

“They don’t want to hear that,” he says. “I don’t care what they do. You can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip.”

And he still doesn’t know if he’ll be able to recover any equity from the house in New Orleans.

“It’s got mold in the sheetrock, it needs new plumbing and electrical and a new roof,” he says. “… I’m trying to see if the cost (of repairs) is more than it’s worth.”

With so much uncertainty in his life, Dunn says he’s trying to make a go of it in Lawrenceville but keeping his options open.

“I don’t know,” he says. “I like it here, but you never know what might happen.”