John and Kathy Tarabene are Croatian-Americans who lived about 50 kilometers southeast of New Orleans in the small fishing village of Empire.
Many Croatians settled here because of the bountiful shrimp and oyster in nearby waters. "It's a hard job but people are satisfied with that," John said. But Katrina took away John's boat and equipment.
The house they lived in is also gone and the area remains flooded. Kathy says Empire, which had a population of around a thousand people before the storm, was a good place to live. “The people were very nice, friendly, kind, considerate. Always willing to help you. We would go to church. We had a very close-knit family," she said.
She worries that many friends and neighbors did not make it out on time. "Many people probably didn't evacuate. They were too poor. They didn't have cars, didn't have transportation... the elderly," she added.
For now, the Tarabenes live in this hotel room and count on the help of local church and charity volunteers who bring them food. As images of the destruction appear on television screens around the world, John and Kathy make an effort to contact relatives back in Croatia.
John calls his aging father to reassure him that they are well. The immediate future remains uncertain and difficult, but Kathy says they hope to return to Empire and start over, if they can. "It is going to be hard, when you have lose everything that you've worked for,” Kathy said. “You feel hopeless. You feel lost. But you have your strength from God to go on."