Two weeks after her first trip home, Renee got a call from her paper. All employees were to report to the main offices in New Orleans by October 10 or lose their jobs. She and Stewart owned a small apartment Uptown, an upper-class area of the city largely spared by the flooding. Renee moved in there, working during the week in New Orleans and returning to Houston every weekend to be with her family. Every now and then, she'd get together for dinner with a group of coworkers living similarly. "We called it the widows' dinner, because it was a group of us whose husbands and families were in exile still," Renee says. "And that's what we called it. Exile."

She spends her free time in her house, cleaning up, ripping out, and starting over. She wears a gas mask to protect her from the toxic mold spores that fill the air in her two-story home. She managed to find someone to repair the roof, but it would be six months before an electrician could replace the damaged wiring. A run on Sheetrock meant the earliest she could hope to have new walls installed was Christmas. The downstairs floors need work. Wood cabinetry in the kitchen and family room has warped. When she thinks too hard about all that needs to be done, she has to lay her head on her desk and remember to breathe. "I'm an organizer," she laments, "and it's driving me crazy because I can't plan past tomorrow."

On October 4, Josh Flood's parents returned to their east New Orleans home for the first time since they left for work the day before the hurricane came ashore. Their home, located across the street from a canal, was destroyed. The flood line inside reached at least five feet high. The walls were covered with mold. The family car, left in the driveway with its windows down, was covered inside and out with a white, chalky film, remnants of salt and other chemicals in the flood waters. A storage shed had washed into the driveway and on its side was a large X, indicating that the home had been searched, and some numbers in red spray paint, markings left by search-and-rescue teams. A zero meant no dead bodies were found inside.

Josh's mother called him as the couple drove out of New Orleans that day. "7322 Morrison Road is in our past," she told him. "There's nothing left to save, nothing left to go back to."

Shelby Van Voris-Schoenborn's work with the Red Cross in Savannah, Georgia, was beginning to slow down a bit when she got a phone call from the Surgeon General's Office. Shelby was a member of the Medical Reserve Corps, a volunteer organization of health workers that helped with relief efforts in crises. She'd signed up with the group earlier in the year, thinking it would be a good way to put to use the skills she'd learned in graduate school. Now she was called up for the first time.

She was assigned to the coroner's office in Baton Rouge. A morgue at St. Gabriel's Hospital held more than three thousand bodies and body parts. Coroners and morticians listed identifying characteristics--hair and eye color, estimated age, height, weight, tattoos, scars--in a database. Shelby's job was to collect missing-persons reports from officials throughout southern Louisiana and try to match the reports to descriptions in the database. When a tentative match was found, she called the families who filed the missing-persons report to arrange for them to give a DNA sample. When a sample matched a corpse or body part, it was her job to break the news to the family. Usually the families on the other end of the line already knew why she was calling, but it was a painful call to make.

Shelby endured the emotionally overwhelming work for eleven days. "It got to the point where we were all broken," Shelby says. "I walked out of there incapable of expressing anything. I had no emotions left. No self-awareness."

She returned to Savannah on Saturday, October 22. Two days later, she visited the first family she'd helped as a Red Cross volunteer. She knew they would understand what she'd been through. "I didn't want to be by myself and none of my friends understood," Shelby says. "I knew I could sit with this family and find a center and learn to function again because they had had to find that center, too. They knew. They could relate."

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