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Family Finances

Then and Now: After Katrina, a New Life

For one family, rebuilding their home after a weather-related disaster proved a daunting process.

Carrie Herndon, her husband, Michael, and three of her four children have room to spread out. Photo by Scogin Mayo

THEN: Carrie and Todd Estapa and their four children, ages 3 to 14, appeared in our August 2006 issue after Hur­ricane Katrina destroyed their house in Waveland, Miss. Living in two trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Estapas had been fighting with their insurer, State Farm, about whether the damage was caused by wind, which is covered by homeowners insurance, or flooding, which is not. Soon after Kiplinger’s contacted State Farm about their case, the Estapas received a $25,000 check and the promise of additional money for their damaged home and possessions.

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NOW: Carrie, 42, is remarried to Michael Herndon and living in Dallas with her children, who are now ages 12 to 23.

After the check from State Farm arrived, “I walked to the beach and cried,” Carrie recalls. “It changed my life.” Even after their claim was approved, however, it took nearly a year to rebuild their house. “Except for my daughter’s room, everything looked like it had been put through the spin cycle with mud and debris,” she says. Rebuilding was delayed everywhere because of the massive scale of devastation. “It was hard to get people in to do work, and there was a shortage of materials.”

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During construction, the family of six spent 10 months squeezed into the FEMA trailers in their driveway. In addition to the mud all around, says Carrie, there were “bugs, spiders, rats and raccoons. It was always hot, and you always felt dirty. My girls still remember the stench.”

Even after they moved back into their house, the community itself was still devastated. Children were going to school in trailers, and many teachers had left. Years later, “we still had no grocery stores,” says Carrie. “It was a constant, total change of lifestyle.” The couple eventually ended up divorcing.

While visiting friends in Dallas, Carrie was struck by the difference. “Everything was manicured, and there were stores and flowers and normal life,” she says. She moved her family there about six years ago. “I loved the Gulf Coast, and a lot of people were doing their best to bring it back, but I couldn’t wait it out as a single mom of four,” she says. “In Dallas, there were schools and opportunities for the children.” She remarried about a year and a half later and now lives in a house with five bedrooms, lots of windows and just under 5,000 square feet. “I thank God for it every day,” she says. “We have space, and I feel grateful. Now when we have minor chaos, we know everything is relative. It feels like the Katrina experience was all a movie, and my son, who was 2 at the time, doesn’t even remember the struggle.”