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Honeysuckle Lane: From Hotel to Home


This week the world became a little brighter for Pat Zeller(ph). On Monday, her round-trip commute to work went from four hours to just a few minutes. Instead of commuting from New Orleans to Baton Rouge for her job with a mortgage company, she had only to walk several city blocks. The office building where she worked before Katrina reopened this week. Mrs. Zeller would gladly opt for a somewhat longer commute, a couple of miles longer, if that meant moving back to her own house in New Orleans East at number 40 Honeysuckle Lane. Instead, she's living at the Doubletree Hotel at the foot of Canal Street, her eighth temporary dwelling since the flood.

This week we've been chatting with residents of Honeysuckle Lane about their situations now and what lies ahead. Back in September, we walked around the Zeller home with her daughter. Storm waters had left the ground floor an unpleasant stew of mold and rot, and winds had caused some exterior damage.

Mrs. PAT ZELLER: Fortunately, we did have flood insurance and hazard insurance, which will take care of the roof and the fence.

SIEGEL: And it terms of dealing with adjustors and insurance companies since the flood, is there progress? Are things happening?

Mrs. ZELLER: We settled with flood last week.

SIEGEL: And settling up, in this case, means a cash payment to you or a go-ahead to you to go get somebody to do the work, and then they'll cover whatever it costs?

Mrs. ZELLER: No. What they'll do--there's two checks coming from flood. One is to cover the contents that was lost, and the other one is to fix up your walls, your floors. And those checks come made out to you and the mortgage companies. And as I go in with, say, a contractor's estimates, they give me a quarter or a third of that money, and that goes on until you use it up.

SIEGEL: Now what happens at a time when there are thousands of homes whose moldy walls have to be taken down or need the same kind of contractors? Are there enough contractors around, or does it become a seller's market?

Mrs. ZELLER: I think it's a seller's market right now. You have to watch who you get; that it's not just a fly-by-night company, and that it's someone that you can rely on if something goes wrong. You just have to be careful.

SIEGEL: Now when I saw your block at the very end of September, at that time in, say, a less hard-hit area--in Metairie, where your older daughter lives--you could see houses with all of the damaged belongings or the trash out in front of the house on the lawn, waiting for pickup. In New Orleans East, you didn't see that.

Mrs. ZELLER: No.

SIEGEL: And it wasn't a a sign that there was no damage; it was a sign that the neighborhood hadn't reached the first step of getting the junk out onto the sidewalk.

Mrs. ZELLER: That's correct. We just did that a couple of days ago. We had gone in and taken out all the furniture and put that outside. And when we went back this weekend, there were other families getting ready to do the same thing.

SIEGEL: So on Honeysuckle Lane, along with the fall colors in the coming weeks, we'll start seeing all of the trash coming out to the front lawns.

Mrs. ZELLER: Yeah. And we still don't have water and electricity in our area, so it gets a little hot. So I was grateful to feel that little crisp of fall in the air.

SIEGEL: Is it clear to you at this point that whatever happens, you and your husband are moving back to number 40 Honeysuckle Lane?

Mrs. ZELLER: I think so. I like it there. And as a matter of fact, my husband and I were speaking about that yesterday. Where do we want to live? Do we want to go back there? Is there someplace else we want to live? My heart is in New Orleans. I can't imagine living anyplace else. This is my home. We have the time now to think where we want to live because it'll be a while before we get into that house anyway.

SIEGEL: Do you have in mind, though, some time line of when you think this is logically going to be done? I mean, are you thinking about January or are you thinking about June or...

Mrs. ZELLER: I would think sometime March, maybe--hopefully, it'll be done.

SIEGEL: That's a lot of meals at the Doubletree between now and March.

Mrs. ZELLER: Yes, it is. Yes, it is.

SIEGEL: Well, Mrs. Zeller, thanks a lot for talking with us today.

Mrs. ZELLER: Thank you. Bye-bye.

SIEGEL: Pat Zeller of 40 Honeysuckle Lane. She and her husband, Robert, are at a hotel in downtown New Orleans, but they hope to get a FEMA trailer to live in until their house in New Orleans East is once again habitable.

MELISSA BLOCK (Host): This is NPR, National Public Radio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Robert Siegel
Prior to his retirement, Robert Siegel was the senior host of NPR's award-winning evening newsmagazine All Things Considered. With 40 years of experience working in radio news, Siegel hosted the country's most-listened-to, afternoon-drive-time news radio program and reported on stories and happenings all over the globe, and reported from a variety of locations across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. He signed off in his final broadcast of All Things Considered on January 5, 2018.