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Katrina evacuee starts over in Dallas

By Catherine Cuellar, KERA 90.1 Reporter

Katrina evacuee starts over in Dallas

Dallas, TX –

Catherine Cuellar, 90.1 reporter: David Sterling is putting together a seed spreader to landscape the manicured grounds at Southern Methodist University, where he's the newest mechanic in the shop. He has a box full of parts in front of him and a diagram in his hands showing how to assemble them.

David Sterling, former New Orleans resident: They just called me and told me to put it together and that's what I do. I fix things.

Cuellar: As an RV mechanic in New Orleans, Sterling learned how to work on anything on wheels, or anything in a house. He's still wearing the uniform from his old company, Playtyme RVs to new job. It pays about the same, but has more perks.

Sterling: It's an air-conditioned shop. (laughs) That's one good thing. I mean, you don't find too many mechanic shops this nice you know, and it really takes personnel to keep it up, so it's pretty nice.

Cuellar: Another benefit is a public transportation pass, which SMU pays for. Sterling still hopes to replace the car he lost. Until then, his sons, 8 and 14, take DART to their new schools. He has to leave before they do to get from his south Dallas apartment to the upscale Park Cities neighborhood.

Sterling: From my job to where I live, that's on the other side of town, so it's a good thing, catch the express bus, I don't have to worry about the traffic. That'll make anybody want to stay at work, you know.

Cuellar: Small comforts like these buoy Sterling's spirits. It's not always easy. Katrina was just the latest blow. In January, his children lost their mother to an aneurysm. So he's working to stay strong, stay positive, for their sake. Sometimes in private, he'll let his guard down.

Sterling: I sob a little bit when I'm at home alone, but not much, because I know I've got to get up in the morning. My children never see me cry.

Cuellar: Two of Sterling's three sons are living with him. He initially evacuated with his two grandsons as well. Fortunately, his eldest son and daughter-in-law are OK and have been reunited with their children. Sterling's immediate family will remain in Texas, but other family members are still in Louisiana, where he lived for all of his 50 years. It's hard to start over, but he is beginning to meet people. One of his new coworkers asked what he misses about home.

Sterling: I told him, well, I miss my fishing poles. I miss my rifle. It's a lot of outdoor things that I always like to do. I like working with things. And then I told him I like music and said my children had karaoke machines and they bought me one!

Cuellar: He gestures to a new karaoke machine on the shop floor that his new coworkers pitched in to buy him. Sterling is touched by their generosity, and excited to have something to surprise his sons with when he gets home from work tonight. Last night was rougher. Sterling spoke by phone with his former supervisor from New Orleans for the first time. The news was not good.

Sterling: The roof was gone off the shop. We had RVs in the shop. A big door, aluminum door was torn down and the shop was ramshacked so I don't think he's gonna go back and open up, so it's like there's no place for me to go back to.

Cuellar: He'll stay here for the foreseeable future, but he and his eldest son are traveling back to New Orleans this week to see if anything can be salvaged. For KERA 90.1, I'm Catherine Cuellar.

Email Catherine Cuellar about this story.