Katrina uproots family and they may never return to area

By Lynn R. Parks

Cheryl Furman hadn't smiled in a week. She hadn't slept either, kept awake by worry about her 2-year-old son Andrew and the future they were facing. But they made their way to the Bridgeville home of her father, Stephen Furman. There waiting for "Drew" was a motorized miniature four-wheeler that Stephen Furman had bought for his grandson. Drew hopped on and, without any lessons, was able to motor up the driveway. "I looked outside and there was Drew, driving his four-wheeler just like he knew what he was doing," Cheryl Furman said. "I smiled for the first time in a week." Furman, 39, her son and her husband, Travis Easley, are residents of Mandeville, La., a town of nearly 12,000 people on the north shores of Lake Pontchartrain. The town, just a couple miles from the 24-mile Pontchartrain Causeway that connects the north to the south side of the lake and New Orleans, is part of the Gulf of Mexico area that was devastated more than three weeks ago by Hurricane Katrina. While Furman's house, only two blocks from the lake, suffered little damage, many other homes in the area, including decades-old homes that were built as summer retreats for New Orleans families, were destroyed. "It will never be the same," said Furman. Easley, who stayed in Bridgeville at the home of his father-in-law for about a week, has returned to Mandeville. He is living in the couple's rented home, which had its electricity restored last week. A self-employed building contractor, he is helping wherever he can in the city's rebuilding effort. But Furman, at least for now, has no intention of returning to the area where she lived for seven years. A part-time ticket agent for U.S. Airways who formerly worked at the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, she will begin work at the Philadelphia International Airport by the end of this month. She hopes that her husband can eventually find work in the area. "Life in Mandeville is changed forever," she said. "You just can't go out to dinner. You can't just go over to a friend's home. You can't just walk down to the lake. All that is gone, and it will never be the same."

Evacuation was a long ordeal
Cheryl Furman, her husband and their son left their home Sunday morning before the storm struck, after policemen urged her not to cross the Pontchartrain Causeway to go to work. "I was on my way to work and I stopped to ask them if I should go ahead, and if they thought that the bridge would still be there when I got off work," she said. "They told me that they couldn't guarantee that the bridge would be there for me to get back home." Furman returned to her home and woke up her husband. "We decided to get together everything important and leave," she said. They loaded up a minivan and a pickup truck with documents, baby pictures, Drew's baby book, baby supplies, clothes and their Siberian husky Kiko and headed out of town, toward Lafayette, about 120 miles away, and the home of a friend. But "the highways were packed," Furman said. Under a mandatory evacuation order, hundreds of thousands of people were fleeing New Orleans, headed north. "We knew we would never make it," she said. So they went to the home of Travis' sister in Folsom, about 30 miles away. The drive, usually about 45 minutes, took two and a half hours. Sunday evening, they, Travis's sister's family and others who were taking refuge in the house, 22 people in all, bedded down anywhere they could find a spot. "They own 12 acres and their house is in the woods," she said. "We all felt safe there." "It is weird to think of that," she said, pausing in her story. "How everything was so normal at that point."

She awoke at around1 a.m. Monday morning, because the electricity had gone off and the house, without air conditioning, was hot. "You could hear branches snapping off and the wind," she said. "I have been through other storms, but I had never heard wind like this. I thought we would be like the Wizard of Oz and go whirling up into the sky, with the way the wind was whipping." Trees were falling all around. At around 10 Monday morning, she looked out and was amazed that the woods around the house, all 12 acres, were flattened. "As far as I could see, there were only two trees left, right next to the house," she said. "They were either snapped off like matchsticks or they had fallen with their roots and big circles of earth attached." The storm lasted for hours. "We would see a little patch of sun, then the wind would roar again," she said. Finally, on Tuesday morning, there was calm. The men who were staying in the house started clearing the driveway, then the road, trying to cut a path out to the rest of the world. "We had no connection with anybody," Furman said. "We had no idea what was going on. The guys would leave and then come back with a report of what was gone." Wednesday afternoon, Furman was able to leave her sister-in-law's home. She and Drew drove to Houston and the home of a friend; Travis, with Kiko, went to Lacombe, near Mandeville, to check on his mother and grandmother, who live there. The family was reunited in Bridgeville on Sunday, nearly a week after the storm. Travis returned to Mandeville a week later. On her way to Houston, Furman was able for the first time to talk with members of her family. She was also able to talk with fellow-employees at U.S. Airways, from whom she learned that the airline was offering its New Orleans employees work at other terminals. "It is amazing how wonderful that company has been to us," she said. "They have really stepped up."

No plans to return to Louisiana
Furman is not sure what the future will bring. She has found an apartment in Bear, from which she can commute to Philadelphia, and is looking for day-care in that area for Drew. Right now, she has no desire to return to Louisiana and face the devastation caused by Katrina. She said that she is amazed at how much people want to help her. Neighbors have collected clothes and other items for her; she is driving a car that a friend said she could use as long as she needed. "I'd like people to know how kind and wonderful people I don't even know have been to my family," she said. From her experience, she said, she has gained an even greater appreciation of the value of children, and understanding of the strength of family. "A structure is not what holds a family together," she said. "A family is a family, no matter where they are. "Everything can change in a day," she added. "Everything can be gone in one day. But staying together as a family, that's what's important."

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