A year ago this week, Kurtis Clements and Ann Bragdon evacuated New Orleans fearing the wrath of Hurricane Katrina on the move into the Gulf Coast.

But only within the last six weeks have the married couple and their three children established a true home, now settled here in the Lakes Region, thousands of miles away from the Big Easy.

“This year has been such a whirlwind,” Bragdon said. “I’ve just been trying to get my kids back into a house.”

The family has finally moved into their new home on Mayberry Hill in Casco while still under renovation. The inside is decorated with all the liveliness the family has carried with them from New Orleans.

Paintings from their former home in New Orleans color the walls along with posters from past jazz festivals. The couple has even installed the old cabinets salvaged from their old home, painted with a jungle mural of lizards and tropical fruit.

Bragdon is home taking care of the kids while Clements teaches English at Andover College.

She has yet to begin making the quilts and crafts she used to sell online and at craft fairs. She’s been so busy with the children and the house that she’s only unpacked her sewing gear this week.

The older kids – Haley, 7, Nate, 5, and their friend Liberty from down the street – all sit at the kitchen counter and eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while the youngest, Grady, who’s only a year old, wanders around with a toy.

Haley and Nate remember evacuating New Orleans the Friday before the storm struck, but the memories are fading fast, Bragdon said.

After the national news reported that the storm was gathering force and changing direction toward New Orleans on Friday, Aug. 24, 2005, Clements and Bragdon piled the kids, and their dog Bruno, into the family van and hit the road Saturday morning.

They called many friends to alert them to the coming storm because news reports on Hurricane Katrina changed several times before the final verdict: that the storm was coming and its power could break the levees.

“Everyone knew it was going to be bad, but no one knew where it was going to hit,” Bragdon said.

Haley and Nate were accustomed to such evacuations and always thought it was fun to stay in a hotel while waiting out a hurricane because they could play in the pool.

“People don’t realize that every other year, there was some reason to evacuate,” Bradgon said.

Catching various news reports of the storm’s devastation on their way to a relative’s home in Naples, Clements and Bragdon knew they wouldn’t be coming back.

“We already thought our house was gone, so we had already mentally moved on,” Bragdon said.

Friends for North Conway, N.H., are coming up for what Bragdon calls “Katrina Day.” And in the coming weeks, more friends from New Orleans are planning to make the trip up to Maine to visit.

Bragdon misses the music and liveliness of the city she and her husband fell in love with years ago.

Their home was less damaged than surrounding homes because of its elevation. But nearby Tulane University, where Clements taught, flooded with eight-feet of water. Ten blocks away, people were stranded on rooftops, waiting to be rescued.

It wasn’t until January of this year that Bragdon and Clements could talk about life in New Orleans without crying.

Clements returned to New Orleans early this year to collect sentimental belongings left behind, like the family picture albums and paintings.

They’ve since sold their New Orleans home and continue to renovate their new home in Casco.

Clements is now teaching English at both Andover College and the University of Southern Maine. He recently wrote an article for DownEast Magazine about fleeing the storm.

Bragdon, a former educator herself, spent the summer teaching classes at the Schoolhouse Arts Center in Sebago.

Both Haley and Nate will attend Songo Locks Elementary School next year, with Haley entering second grade and Nate enrolled in kindergarten there.

Both children are finding new friends in Casco and Nate has taken to staring out the upstairs window of his bedroom to watch the trucks go by, zooming past the vast meadow across the street, because “he just loves trucks,” Bragdon said.

The kids fight over getting to use the new playhouse in the backyard, a gift from inmates at the Maine State Prison.

These inmates crafted a beautiful Creole playhouse for the children with an impressive mural of a Maine landscape inside.

“The inmates I guess were really into it,” Bragdon said. “They wanted to do something for the kids.”

The playhouse sits in the backyard as one of many reminders of the life they left behind in New Orleans.

Clements and Bragdon are still debating when to take the kids back to New Orleans for a visit.

And though the family misses the city, they have found a new life here in the Lakes Region, a life they are continuing to adjust to.

This Creole playhouse, crafted by inmates at the Maine State Prison, was recently given to the Bragdon-Clements family, a family that evacuated from New Orleans last year and has now resettled in Casco.

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