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New Orleans Family Makes Temporary Home in Md., Struggles with School, Work Adjustments

From left, Danielle, Amanda and Rachel McCarthy / Newsline photo by April Chan
From left, Danielle, Amanda and Rachel McCarthy show their school paper, where the girls have written about their Hurricane Katrina experiences. (Newsline photo by April Chan)

By April Chan
Maryland Newsline
Friday, Nov. 4, 2005; Web posted at 2 p.m.

KENSINGTON, Md. - After just a few weeks of attending her new school in Maryland, Danielle McCarthy forgot to do a homework assignment for her science class.

And while her mother, Romaine McCarthy, 41, figured the little mishap would be shrugged off by her daughter, Danielle proved her wrong. “She was like, ‘I’m ready to go home. I can’t do this,’ ” her mother said.

It was the last straw after a series of dramatic changes in the life of this accomplished 13-year-old, who had been looking forward to her 8th grade year at St. George’s Episcopal School in New Orleans.

“I had, like, a breakdown,” the teen said. “I was kind of mad that I couldn’t go back” yet.

Had it not been for Hurricane Katrina, Danielle would now be looking at graduation dresses with her friends. “It was just going to be a big year for all of us. It was our last year at the school,” she said.

But as September began, she and her younger siblings, Amanda, 12, Rachel, 10, and Ian, 8, found themselves hundreds of miles from home, going to strange schools with kids they didn’t know and wondering when they could go home again to see their pet turtle, Pluto, and hamster, Lee. They had hidden the pets in a second-floor closet in their New Orleans home before they fled on Aug. 28 -- the Sunday before Katrina arrived.

Lee has since died, said Danielle and Amanda. The thought is too much for Rachel to bear. “Don’t rub it in,” she chides her sisters.

For Ian, “being here without his father has been the hardest,” his mom said.

And for Romaine McCarthy and her husband, Mark McCarthy, who are living in two different states as they figure out how to rebuild their lives, so many things are still frustratingly in limbo.

'We Knew We Weren’t Sticking Around'

Skip to other pages of this story:
  • 'We Knew We Weren't Sticking Around'
  • A Maryland Welcome
  • Living With Uncertainty
  • Figuring Out What's Next
  • 'They All Want To Be a Family Again'
  • New Orleans natives Romaine and Mark McCarthy knew it was time to evacuate when the storm barreling toward their home in the Gentilly neighborhood grew into a category five that could carry winds greater than 156 mph.

    “We had the means to leave, so we did,” Romaine said.

    The couple, their children and the family dog, Zip, piled into the family van at 6 a.m. on Aug. 28 and embarked on a 14-hour drive east to Jacksonville, Fla., where Romaine, who admitted to never really worrying about hurricanes before, told the kids they were going to “go chill out” for a few days.

    “I thought it was going to be like a mini vacation,” daughter Danielle said.

    The family only took two suitcases between the six of them.

    They’d soon realize they were woefully underpacked.

    Three days into their stay at a hotel in Jacksonville, the McCarthys saw on television the London Canal levee near their home had burst. Romaine said they knew at that point that their house had likely flooded.

    While the urge to return home and survey the damage was great, Romaine said the sheer human devastation she saw on television convinced her that there was no going home right then.

    With nowhere else to go, the family headed toward Tampa, Fla., where Mark’s cousin had a spare bedroom for them to use while they figured out their next move.

    Mark McCarthy, a sleep disorder physician who had worked out of their home and had occasional shifts at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Biloxi, Miss., needed to stay close to the Gulf Coast in case his services were needed, his wife said.

    But living in Tampa would have been a tight squeeze for the six of them.

    Mark’s sister, Arlene McCarthy, suggested they come stay with her in Kensington, Md.

    “My daughter just left for a year abroad,” said. “She just graduated from high school and is doing a 13th year in France, so I had enough space to accommodate them. And the schools in this area are very good.”

    With the school year starting, Romaine and the four children left Mark in Tampa and headed for Kensington.

    Continued on Page 2: A Maryland Welcome


    Banner graphic by April Chan, incorporating photo from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Newsline Web content edited by Chris Harvey.  

    Copyright 2005 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism

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