Some in the water's path did not want to leave; others are already planning their return. Still others are suspended in grief
Photographs for TIME by John Chiasson
"I do not feel threatened in my home from looters or anything like that."
Susan Ebel NEW ORLEANS A private chef, she feels lucky that her 150-year-old Garden District home "never lost a pane of glass." She resisted the idea of evacuation and sees shortages of ice and coffee as a "Zen experience."
"I will not be whipped. I will be back and record the history of this storm."
Charles Gray BAY ST. LOUIS, MISS. The Hancock County Historical Society executive director is upbeat despite the loss of a home with precious antiques and paintings.
Robert Barnes PASS CHRISTIAN, MISS. As the water rose, Barnes, a concrete finisher, climbed into the attic and then onto his roof, then used his belt to strap himself to the top of a pine tree. "You could hear the tornadoes roaring," he says. When the flood abated, he discovered a neighbor's corpse. Bayou mud left little in his house to salvage. But he thinks he'll find work.
"[Is my job gone?] No. Whenever they get electricity back, we'll start pouring concrete. House slabs, big industries, we'll do driveways."
"I've never had Thanksgiving or Christmas without my parents. We always had gumbo and stuffed crabs."
James Oliver (with cousin Alicia Labat) SAN FRANCISCO The cousins have managed to transfer from two New Orleans universities to one in San Francisco. For Alicia, a Californian, it is a homecoming; for James, an abrupt, indefinite exile from his beloved hometown.
The Ainsworths LAFAYETTE, LA. Kirk, his wife Lyndi, baby Jack and daughter Mia, 3, evacuated New Orleans' Mid-City neighborhood before the storm. Heavily armed, the medical-device salesman and friends returned by boat to do search and rescue. At first he thought, "This city is going to be bulldozed." Now he sees an "attitude shift," and says, "Not only can they rebuild this, but I think they can do it better than it was." Still, Mia's first day of school was in Lafayette.
"I'm not from New Orleans, but I've been there 12 years. All I can say is, I miss it already, everything about it. I really don't care to live anywhere else."
"It's too early to tell if I'll move--we haven't even recovered my mother's body--but I probably won't."
Brian Molere BAY ST. LOUIS, MISS. When the walls of his concrete-and-stucco home blew out, Molere grabbed his chihuahua Rocky, was swept from his roof, and swam and rode the current for two hours. He saved the dog but later found that his 80-year-old mother, in another house and on a respirator, had refused to leave. "I hope she went fast," he says. He knows many who have lost kin.