For three months after Hurricane Katrina, Cassandra Cunnikin made Minneapolis her home. She, her husband, her daughter and the family dog fled New Orleans a few days after the storm to stay in the Twin Cities with her son. But Cunnikin said by December, it was time to return to the Gulf Coast.
"I don't like the cold," she says. "I don't like the cold and I don't know how to drive in snow."
The Red Cross says the Cunnikins were among about 1,600 people who came to the Twin Cites for refuge after Katrina. No one knows how many of them stayed around or how many, like the Cunnikins, returned to the Gulf Coast.
"Minnesota was a gorgeous beautiful, place to stay," Cunnikin said. "I enjoyed my stay up there. Everybody treated us really nicely. The state was very open and welcome to New Orleans evacuees. But by me being in my home for so many years, I really wanted to go back and rebuild it, which we did."
The state was very open and welcome to New Orleans evacuees. But by me being in my home for so many years, I really wanted to go back and rebuild it, which we did.Cassandra Cunnikin
Cunnikin's home escaped the flooding from the breached levies, but it suffered wind and rain damage. Cunnikin said she's received some insurance money, but not all she's owed. She and her husband used their savings to pay for repairs.
But after months of working on their home of 24 years, the Cunnikins had to leave New Orleans once again in June. This time, Cunnikin said, it was because her husband's employer, the U.S. Air Force, relocated the aircraft he worked on to Lake Charles, Louisiana, about four hours west of New Orleans. Her husband is an air force mechanic. She said the air force felt the aircraft would be safer away from the city. Cunnikin says the past year has been extremely hard.
"The stressful part is leaving the house after 24 years with only six years left to finish paying for it, to have to come and start another 30 years mortgage...at the age of 50 years old."
Cunnikin is now setting up house in Lake Charles in a home she and her husband just purchased. The furniture just arrived.
The new home is putting a strain on their finances. Cunnikin is a practical nursing technician and she hasn't been able to find a job in the nursing field since she returned to Louisiana. The couple have one income and two mortgages. She says the New Orleans house is up for sale, but she's still worried.
"Our credit was really good and we really don't want it to go bad. But if it keeps up like that, it will be going bad because we're just going to let one of them go. Well, we're going to have to let the one in New Orleans go. I've invested half my life into that. It was a home we had made for ourselves, not knowing we'd have to get up and leave it. But it was a home we had made for ourselves and we planned on staying there until retirement," she said.
Cunnikin says she's trying to take things one day at a time. But she does get frustrated and cries a lot -- although not as much as she used to. She says she just relies on her faith in God to pull her through.