[StBernard] Enclave absorbs families uprooted from St. Bernard

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Wed Aug 27 08:59:31 EDT 2008

Enclave absorbs families uprooted from St. Bernard
Subdivision safer, but not the same
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
By Mary Elise DeCoursey
St. Bernard bureau
PICAYUNE, MISS. -- When Hurricane Katrina took aim at the Louisiana coast
three years ago, longtime Chalmette residents Cheryl Schwab and Laurie
Becnel didn't know each other.

Three years later, they're neighbors -- but not in St. Bernard.

Their new home is Round Rock, a subdivision in Picayune, Miss., where they
are just two of dozens of transplanted St. Bernard Parish residents.
Residents estimate 90 percent to 95 percent of the 150 families in the
subdivision are from St. Bernard. Drawn together by family and friends, the
neighborhood has become a post-Katrina outpost of the parish.

There are block parties and luncheons. And like back home, boats dot
numerous driveways, though it's a good 40 minutes to any sizeable body of

"They call it 'Little Chalmette,' " Becnel said. "All it took was one or two
people from Chalmette getting in, and it spread like wildfire. Why wouldn't
you want to go where people from your community were going to be?"

Schwab and Becnel said their decision not to return to St. Bernard Parish
was swift and practical. Many of their neighbors weren't moving back. Could
they stand to live in FEMA trailers for months, maybe years, as they
rebuilt? And what if another big hurricane threatened?

"If we would have had just a couple feet of water, we could have handled
that. But to be wiped out? I couldn't do that again," said Schwab, a retired
school district employee. "We lost too much down there, material things and
friends and family."

No one can quite put a finger on how Round Rock came to house so many from
St. Bernard. Some followed family members or friends, and others heard
through Internet forums or word of mouth. Residents said the area is safely
inland, but still only an hour's drive to Chalmette and the rest of
metropolitan New Orleans. And it's high ground: 100 to 115 feet above sea

Schwab got a new house and a big yard, all away from the water.

"That was the most important thing," she said.

--- Desperate for housing ---

Dixie Dossett, a Picayune real estate agent, said the homes in Round Rock
went fast after the hurricane. "The builders were working as hard as they
could to try and get things complete as soon as possible, because the people
were just desperate to have a house to live in," she said.

After spending a couple of weeks at their timeshare in Orlando, Fla.,
reality set in for the Becnels: They needed a place to live. They followed
Laurie's sister, Belinda, to Picayune, buying a house in Round Rock. By the
end of 2005, they had moved in. Becnel said she was determined to give her
son, Mason, four normal years of high school, and 2005 was his freshman

Schwab wouldn't go anywhere without her neighbor of 32 years, Marie McNab.
If they couldn't go back to Volpe Drive in Chalmette, at least they would
stick together.

Schwab and her husband, Leonard, moved into their home on Aug. 26, 2006. The
McNabs followed three days later, three houses down the block. In March
2007, another friend from St. Bernard Parish moved in around the corner.

"When I go to Wal-Mart, if you go down one aisle, you run into somebody from
St. Bernard. Go down another aisle, you run into somebody else," Schwab
said. "That made me feel good, because I knew some of our friends had moved
up here."

At first glance, the main drag in Picayune could be Judge Perez Drive.
There's a Stage department store, a Popeyes, plenty of local restaurants.
But drive five miles or so out to Round Rock, and it starts to look a little
different. Houses are fewer and far between, neighborhoods are connected by
highways. The roads are quiet, and the drawl is different.

--- Searching for meaning ---

Day-to-day life has changed. Becnel drives almost 90 miles to and from work
every day as an X-ray technician in Jefferson Parish. Her commute used to be
four miles. If Wal-Mart doesn't have what you need, Schwab said, you have to
make the 26-mile trip to Slidell. Her church isn't just down the street;
it's 15 minutes away.

But Picayune is home now. And although Schwab says she is content, she
misses St. Bernard Parish every day.

"I miss the sense of community, the closeness," Schwab said sadly. "We
didn't have to leave the parish if we wanted to go shopping; everything was
there. And there's such a sense of family in the community."

Another Round Rock resident, Sandra Marlborough, who moved with her husband
and two children after their Genie Street home in Chalmette flooded, sums up
her life now: She likes not having to deal with the stress of another flood,
but she really misses her hometown.

Her new home is nice, but "there's not much hometown feel. Here, we go to
work and we come home. I really do miss what I had in St. Bernard."

But other former St. Bernard residents say they'll shape their new community
over time and, they hope, experience the comfort of an old home in a new

Maybe in the end, Becnel said, it all happened for a reason.

"You know what? I feel like everybody has a plan in life, and I think the
ones that didn't go back (to St. Bernard), maybe there was a reason. And I
think it was to spread our personalities and culture to new people. I think
we've made a difference up here."

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