'Very Comfortable' in His Life in Md.

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Thursday, November 24, 2005

In the days after Hurricane Katrina destroyed his New Orleans neighborhood, Bruce Norwood was in a rush to get back home.

He wanted to help rebuild his city. Never mind that he is 48, suffered a minor stroke this year and has high blood pressure. He thought he had desirable skills: He had been a construction worker and a house painter for years.

But now Norwood is settling into a one-bedroom apartment in North Potomac. He has been a deli sandwich-maker at a Giant supermarket in Rockville for almost two months. And he is near family members -- also evacuees -- just as he was in New Orleans: He lives next door to a nephew, less than a mile from one sister and 10 miles from another sister.

"There's no reason to leave here," he said. "I'm comfortable. I'm very comfortable."

In fact, just as they do every Thanksgiving, the Norwoods plan to get together today to watch football and feast on turkey, ham and gumbo. This time, they'll gather at the new Germantown home of Norwood's niece, Keyoka Norwood, who fled New Orleans with her boyfriend and five children.

"It's a different time zone but basically the same thing," Bruce Norwood said.

When Katrina hit, Norwood was living in a one-bedroom apartment near the Superdome. He fled to Houston, along with his nephews, nieces, cousins and sisters. Most were living in a hotel when the Rev. William Finch discovered them and offered them a ride, a home and jobs in Maryland. Finch had collected $100,000 from his parishioners at St. Raphael's Catholic Church in Rockville to charter a bus to rescue as many evacuees as he could.

Norwood and his nephew Greg stayed at the Potomac home of two parishioners for about a month. Eager to live on their own, they moved to a hotel, paid for by the Red Cross. Then they moved into their own apartments in the Avalon Fields community, courtesy of the Montgomery County government. The county paid their security deposit and will pay a few months' rent.

Although he misses New Orleans, Bruce Norwood is feeling at home in Maryland. His apartment is sparsely furnished, but he has the essentials -- a couch, coffee table and bed, all church donations. "I'm getting it together," he said. "It's a lovely apartment in a very secure neighborhood."

One recent evening, he leaned back in his blue reclining chair to watch TV, wearing shorts, a T-shirt and Birkenstocks even though it was cold and rainy outside. He had just returned from a shopping trip to Target, having purchased a tablecloth and a poinsettia. He has put blue curtains on his windows and found three paintings of nature scenes for his wall. "I put my own little touches in," he said. "I want to be as comfortable as possible. I'm rebuilding as we speak."

He still hopes to return to New Orleans someday, when it is back to normal. But he doesn't think it will happen soon. He said expects to stay in Maryland for another year or two. Last week, he bought something he had little use for in New Orleans: a coat.

"I'm so ready for winter," he said.

-- Nancy Trejos


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