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Andre Dunn: Making a new life in Georgia

Andre Dunn fled his home in the Seventh Ward of New Orleans with his extended family as Hurricane Katrina bore down on the Gulf Coast.  Now he's picking up the pieces of his life in Atlanta and has no intention of going back.
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Andre Dunn, 38, married owner of an insured house worth approximately $150,000 on Urquhart Street, in the Seventh Ward of New Orleans.

Andre Dunn played the role of Noah when it came time to get out of Katrina’s way, but instead of collecting two of each species in his “ark” — a Ford F-150 pickup — he loaded it with kids, grandkids and in-laws.

“They were scattered all over the city, so we go to the east, pick up a few here, go to the West Bank, pick up a few there. A few got left, so we come back, pick some more up,” he said, recalling the frenzied hours on Aug. 28, after he and his wife, Trenell, decided to leave their four-bedroom home in New Orleans Seventh Ward and take along anyone in their extended family who wanted to go to higher ground.

“By that time, they're saying if you don't get out by a certain time, you can't get out. So we line them all up and we had 16. ... We let the dogs loose, because you can't bring no dogs  ... and loaded up like the Beverly Hillbillies and rolled out.  ... We had umbrellas, chairs.  ... People were taking pictures  ... (and asking) ‘Are those guys real?’”

If the stress of leaving his home and several unaccounted-for family members behind was wearing on Dunn, it wasn’t readily apparent when we encountered him at a Red Cross shelter near Pearl River, La., a week after Katrina hit. A big man with an even bigger sense of humor, Dunn smiled and laughed repeatedly as he described the family’s improbable exodus and prospects for the future.

A positive outlook
“Whatever happens, I look at it in a positive way. It's not like they didn't have a chance,” he said of those who stayed behind, including his mother-in-law and youngest son. “ ... They had their choices, they chose that and that's how it went.  ... Now I’ve got to look at the new generation ... the little generation. I’ve got to make sure they're going to survive, have a fair chance in life, make good decisions.

A month after the storm drove him from the city where he grew up, the newspaper delivery man who also works part  time as a moving man and a disc jockey has now moved on with most of his family to Atlanta. They are living in a hotel provided by the Red Cross and waiting for promised assistance from FEMA to arrive so they can rent a house in nearby Norcross, Ga., and get back to some semblance of normalcy.

“We’re looking to get back on a normal basis, back to reality. ... Looking for work, kids going to school, all that type of stuff,” he said.

He also has heard from most of the family members who stayed behind and believes that they all survived the terrible flood that swamped the Seventh Ward.

Yet to see damage to home
Dunn hasn’t yet been able to go back to see his “shotgun”-style home because his ZIP Code has not yet been cleared for residents to return. But he understands that it was deep under water at the height of the flooding and figures it’s a total loss.

And since he has only the minimum required mortgage insurance, which guarantees only that the bank gets repaid the outstanding amount of the loan, he may not be able to recover much, if anything, from his investment.

No matter how that turns out, Dunn says he has no intention of returning to the Crescent City.

“I don’t want to live in New Orleans anymore,” he said. “That’s a fish bowl. Every time a hurricane comes, you got to run. You’ve got to learn. New Orleans is a place to visit. I don’t want to go back into a deathtrap.”