Part 1

The Larches Survive the Floods, Can't Escape the Tears

Todd and Michele Larche prepare to leave Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring with their daughter, Kristen. They had rushed her to the hospital Tuesday night after she had a seizure.
Todd and Michele Larche prepare to leave Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring with their daughter, Kristen. They had rushed her to the hospital Tuesday night after she had a seizure. (By James A. Parcell -- The Washington Post)

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By Lonnae O'Neal Parker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 15, 2005

One in a series chronicling the Larches of New Orleans as they rebuild their lives in the Washington area

As the nurse in the pediatric ward of Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring gently removes the catheter from the top of her hand, 5-year-old Kristen Larche begins to cry.

"Look at Daddy. It's okay," murmurs 38-year-old New Orleans schoolteacher Todd Larche, cradling his daughter. "It's okay. It's okay. Let me kiss your eyes," he soothes, brushing his lips across the little girl's face. He continues to hold her and her cries fill the hospital room.

There have been endless tears since Hurricane Katrina two weeks ago. Since Larche, his physician wife, Michele, 39, their teenage nephew and two elderly parents fled New Orleans the day after the storm.

Tears: for the house that's under water, the wedding pictures on the table.

For the patients Michele couldn't check on before she left, the practice of elderly and low-income patients she built in four years and lost in less than a day.

For all the water and diseased muck that has drowned their whole lives. That probably drowned their dogs.

It's water that forced them to drive until they fell asleep in their cars outside Chattanooga, forces them now to sleep in his in-laws' Silver Spring home; in one room that Todd and Michele, who is 8 1/2 months pregnant, share with Kristen and Todd's 76-year-old father. It's water that keeps rolling down the faces of all the people he cares about most in the world.

And just as when the levees broke, he can't stop this water, either. Not in the eyes of his wife, or his 81-year-old mother-in-law, who has Alzheimer's disease and doesn't really understand.

And Lord, though he's got to be strong for everybody, he can't even hold back the water that keeps spilling from his own eyes.

In New Orleans, Todd and Michele lived 10 minutes from Todd's father, who lived a mile from Michele's mother. They all rode out the storm in a downtown hotel. Todd's sister's son -- 17-year-old Elliott -- was there, too. They left their dogs -- Simba the Rottweiler and Sonny the black cocker spaniel -- in the back yard, with a door allowing them into the garage and utility room and a big dispenser of water and food. The plan was to return afterward, assess the damage, then head to Silver Spring, where Michele's niece was getting married.

Tuesday morning, the worst seemed over. By afternoon, as water filled the streets, those who could were leaving. The Larches didn't want to go at first, "then the radio started talking about New Orleans as if it was Armageddon," Todd says. Hotel workers were evacuating and the streets erupted in looting.


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© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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