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Family forced out by Katrina finds warm welcome on Plateau

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By Brenda Sexton

The Courier-Herald

It was a fairly typical late August Friday for Koplitz family, who has called New Orleans home for the past 17 years.

Parents Brent and Lynn, chemistry professors at Loyola and Tulane universities, were preparing for the start of the school year and registering freshmen. Trevor, a freshman, and Shannon, a senior, were getting into their high school schedules.

Everything was ordinary until that fateful Friday evening. Family members, who have evacuated during previous hurricanes - George, Andrew and Ivan - have lived through enough warnings to have established a routine. When the Katrina threat took a more serious tone, they made reservations at a hotel in Jackson, Miss. By early Sunday morning they had loaded up the car, including the family dog, some overnight necessities and the neighbor and headed to Jackson with another family. The cats stayed behind.

"It was a normal drill in terms of hurricanes," Lynn said.

"Typically we're back in two, three, four days," Brent said.

The difference this time was Hurricane Katrina didn't head north, she turned south onto New Orleans.

"One of the things we've noticed about the people across the country is they don't understand how strong a storm it was and how fast it hit," Brent said.

The wrath of Katrina was even felt in Jackson Monday night as the Koplitz' hotel lost power and winds reached 80 mph.

But the family remained positive.

"Going to bed that night I was feeling pretty good," Lynn said.

Then the levee broke, flooding New Orleans.

"The levee breach made it totally different," Brent said.

"We had to makes some major decisions in a very short time with information that was constantly changing."

The Koplitz family headed to St. Louis for a few days. They dropped off their neighbor, then headed to Enumclaw to find refuge with Brent's brother Steve and his family. They had visited in Enumclaw just a month earlier.

"Once we knew it would be a long time, we started making alternative plans," Brent said.

Even settling into new surroundings, the plan keeps evolving.

Shannon and Trevor have joined their cousins Quin and Mara at Enumclaw High and will finish the school year there. Because Shannon has been preparing to attend Stanford University, Lynn had all her school transcripts with her when they evacuated. And Trevor, being a freshman, didn't have as great a need for them when it came to entering school. But they currently have no immunization records. No records of prescriptions for medication. Lynn even had to change the area code on her cell phone so she could receive and make calls because the area code for New Orleans was not operational.

Brent and Lynn have been able to get on at the University of Washington as part of its visiting scholars program.

"The hardest part is locating people," Lynn said.

But the family received good news last week. A neighbor who returned to check on his home, reported the Koplitz home had no flooding and suffered only some roof and window damage. And at least one of the cats was OK.

"As things go, we are fortunate," Lynn said. "Most of our friends are fine, but a lot of people are not OK."

Their respective universities are in good shape as well, but their students are scattered across the country. Brent and Lynn may return by the end of the year, but they just aren't sure. The next couple of years, they said,ß will determine where they go and what they do.

"I was thinking, 'Where are we going to make a new life?'" Lynn said. "But now I'm gradually thinking differently."

They know New Orleans will revive, it's just a matter of when.

"It's just, it won't be livable - really livable - for a while," Lynn said.

"A lot of people will go back to New Orleans," Brent said. "They really can't live anywhere else."

Right now, family members are grateful for the generous people, here and across the country.

"It's kind of impressive," Lynn said. "Everywhere we've gone across the country people were helping out."

Brent said it was an amazing site as they were evacuating to see the aid and fire vehicles, utility trucks and military caravans streaming south.

And they're impressed with the inviting reception they've received here.

"We're being very well taken care of by friends and family," Lynn said.

"And people who don't even know us," Shannon added.

"The people here have been so generous," Lynn said. "We can't thank them enough."

Brenda Sexton can be reached at bsexton@courierherald.com.

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