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Anxious to Get Back to Work

Frank Sibley, owner of R.J. Marchand's hardware store in Metairie, La., looks over damage to his business caused by Hurricane Katrina.
Frank Sibley, owner of R.J. Marchand's hardware store in Metairie, La., looks over damage to his business caused by Hurricane Katrina. (By Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)

The Saturday before the hurricane, Sibley and his family had gathered for a barbecue to commemorate the anniversary of his wife's death. After cleaning the grills, they boarded up Sibley's house and business in Metairie for the hurricane and headed in a four-car caravan north to Shreveport, La., to stay with his wife's relatives.

Sibley packed a box of photographs, including one of him and his wife aboard a cruise ship a few years ago, in the back of his white Lincoln Town Car. Another black-and-white photograph shows him as a 20-something, sitting with his late father and grandfather at the famous Pat O'Briens bar in downtown New Orleans. It disturbs Sibley to not be in business. He's in every day at 5 a.m. and usually works until 6 p.m. He works Saturdays so his two sons can be off.

"We've never missed a lick before," Sibley said as he picked up drill bits, ripped from their packages in his store. "As soon as a storm comes through, we're always back to work right away."

After Hurricane Betsy in 1965, Sibley said, the hardware store reopened barely three days later. "The lights blinked off for a few hours, and then we're back up and rolling," he recalled.

After Katrina passed, Sibley moved his family back from Shreveport to Hammond. He's one of 16 people staying in a three-bedroom Cape Cod with three cats. Because he can't do much at the store yet, he's tried to distract himself by going back and forth to Wal-Mart to get food. He cut the lawn of his son-in-law's house.

Once he gets his store open, Sibley says, he expects sales to rise by 50 percent over last year, as contractors work to rebuild homes, offices and stores in New Orleans area.

"Frank makes money off of disasters," said Steve Goodwin, his son-in-law.

Customers have called his son, Greg, who's staying in his RV with his wife near Lafayette, La. -- about three hours outside New Orleans -- to ask if the store's reopened because they need saws, wheelbarrows and shovels.

"We've got the stuff that's needed right away for people to start rebuilding," Greg said. "It's going to be hard to recover from all this, but we're going to do it. We're coming back, and we're coming back strong."


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