Homesick 'Katrina Kid' finds a welcome

San Jose Mercury News

Thursday 22 December 2005, 11:36 am

By Dana Hull, Mercury News

In his baggy shorts and navy blue school T-shirt, Troy Adam blends in with other students at Bellarmine College Prep -- until you hear his to-die-for Louisiana drawl.

Troy, 14, is a "Katrina Kid," one of thousands of Gulf Coast teenagers who fled Hurricane Katrina and are now adjusting to a new school, new teachers, new friends and an entirely new life thousands of miles from home.

Troy's parents had just closed on their new house in Chalmette, in St. Bernard Parish east of New Orleans, when Katrina hit. The family evacuated with just a few changes of clothes and Yeager, their Jack Russell terrier. They drove west for days, sleeping in rest stops along Interstate 10 because motels were booked or did not accept pets. They arrived, anxious and exhausted, at the East San Jose home of their extended family.

Bellarmine College Prep, the all-boys Jesuit school, took Troy as a student, waiving the $10,800 yearly tuition fee. Bellarmine then set the family up in a house it owns on Elm Street, right near campus.

Bellarmine's faculty and staff immediately comment on Troy's unflagging politeness. Everything is "Yes, ma'am" and "No, sir," phrases rarely muttered in the corridors of most California high schools.

"He's a great kid. He's so polite," said John Scherbart, a religion teacher who arranged for Troy to speak at the school's Thanksgiving prayer service. "I asked Troy if he could share his story, and he told it very profoundly and very sincerely. He had the auditorium riveted."

Troy's parents flew home to check on their house in early October, as soon as the parish let residents back in, for the unpleasant job of throwing out rotting food and soiled possessions. The ground floor of the house was five feet deep in mud and muck; the upstairs bedrooms are fine. "It smelled like when you go to the zoo and visit the reptile exhibit."

Rebuilding is far from easy. Their homeowners insurance does not cover flood damage, an enormous bone of contention among Katrina victims. They are almost tapped out financially. And though they are eager to repair their house, every electrician, plumber and contractor in the New Orleans area is booked solid for months.

"FEMA's giving out trailers, so we're waiting to get a trailer on our lot," said Troy. "But there's no grocery store open yet, so it's kind of hard to actually go back."