Neighbors in Need: Part IV

Simon picks the boys up from school.
Simon picks the boys up from school.

Hurricane Katrina survivors are still trying to put their lives back together. That's tough enough. But now imagine you're in one state, and the rest of your family's in another. That's what the Grays are dealing with.

Simon and Alexis Gray and their two boys evacuated to Pooler, where Alexis' parents live. When they learned they couldn't go home, they enrolled the boys in school here. Now, Simon's job has sent him to Houston for several weeks. Alexis and the boys are here, and their damaged home is in Louisiana.

But they're making the best of it, especially on rare occasions when they can all be together.

Picking his children up from school is a special treat for Simon. "It's an experience I can't believe," he told us. "I can't state how happy I am with it all. You've got the tears coming out of my eyes just thinking about it."

For the last six weeks, this family from Slidell, Louisiana, has been apart after Simon's job transferred him temporarily. Alexis and the boys stayed in Pooler with her parents. They spent a rare weekend together for Simon's birthday.

Six-year-old Spencer proved they can still share a joke. "I really hope he has a great time while he's back and, I just really don't know how to explain this, but he's pretty old!" he said.

"I just look forward to the days and month when we can all be together all the time," said Alexis.

For the time, Alexis says coming to Pooler was the right decision. "I knew I could come back here and my kids would be in a safe environment."

But some things she didn't expect. "People sending me money that I haven't seen in 20 or 30 years. That all of a sudden I was getting a check in the mail from them. I mean, very humbling. Very, very humbling."

Teachers and staff at Pooler Elementary have seen to her boys' needs, right down to replacing nine-year-old Pierce's Harry Potter books.

"He cried that day, because all of his books were gone and the teacher turned around and without thinking said to my husband, 'I'll replace them. Don't worry,'" Alexis told us.

Pierce's books weren't the only things lost. Two weeks after Katrina, Simon got his first look at the damage. Their house, buried under debris, was standing. But like many homes, flooding took a toll.

"A war zone doesn't describe what I saw," Simon said.

Mold covered the walls, curtains and furniture. Thick mud caked their hardwood floors. Simon found the couch on top of the bar and a muddied teddy bear on the floor of Spencer's room. Going through the boys' rooms was the hardest part.

"Realizing that you have to throw away absolutely everything," said Simon. "Toys, that's okay, but all the school projects. I basically spent an hour and a half picking stuff up, putting it into a trash bin, crying, getting on with it and keep on going through that process."

That took a week. Now, he has no desire to go back or for his family to see it. "I will have to take them back at some stage, but I don't know when."

Cautiously, they showed the boys the pictures of the damage. "We went through and discussed it," said Simon. "There were a lot of tears, but at the same time, we're all here."

Something Spencer is not taking for granted. "I really did miss him a whole, whole, whole bunch."

While the Grays are grateful for the support they've found here, they don't think they'll stay in Pooler. Simon's office is reopening in New Orleans.

The family is not sure where they'll go next, but they're definitely looking forward to being together.

Reported by: Liz Flynn,