Family from Westwego, La., receives warm welcome here in south county


For the Call

William Bellanger was looking forward to making new friends at a new school — he just didn’t think that school would be in south county.

William, 14, formerly of Westwego, La., would have started his freshman year at John Curtis Christian High School in New Orleans earlier this month if it hadn’t been for Hurricane Katrina. Instead, he is a freshman at Lindbergh High School.

“We enrolled him at Lindbergh because we knew it was going to be six weeks before any schools down there reopen, if that,” said his mother, Jennifer Bellanger. “Lindbergh has bent over backwards for us. If we haven’t been able to find it, they’ve provided it for him. They’ve even assigned a student to show him around.”

Jennifer’s parents, Phyllisus and John DeMaranville, live in the Sakura Gardens Condominiums off Tesson Ferry Road. Her brother graduated from Lindbergh in 1972, but she had never seen the campus.

“I didn’t realize it was that big until we attended the open house,” Jennifer said.

“They have me running all over that campus,” William said.

“I told him he doesn’t have to worry about going out for track,” she said. “He’s getting all his exercising just going to class.”

“Lindbergh is bending over backwards to help my son and they want to do more,” said William’s father, Joseph Bellanger. “His teachers said if he needs anything, let them know. I really admire this area.”

William already had begun making new friends at John Curtis during band camp this summer. His voice cracked as he started talking about them.

“My new friends have disappeared,” William said. “They lived in Hanrahan and we haven’t been able to find out how that area is.”

Despite daily attempts to reach friends and family, the Bellangers haven’t heard from eight of the members of William’s Boy Scout troop and his parents aren’t certain if they have jobs anymore.

Many of the flooded houses in east New Orleans and Oak Park were built by the architectural firm where Jennifer Bellan-ger is employed as an architectural draftsman. It is uncertain whether the firm will reopen.

She had surgery to her foot the Tuesday before Katrina struck. While her husband stayed with their home through the storm, he sent Jennifer and William to St. Louis after the storm reached Category Five status.

Their house sustained wind damage to the roof and lost a roof over a workshop in the back of the home. Joseph Bellanger covered it with a tarp before heading north to rejoin his family.

“An old shed we wanted to fall down is still standing and it sways back and forth in a light wind,” William said. “It should have fallen down 20 years ago. The only thing holding it up is a flat bottomed canoe.”

The family usually stops overnight on the way to St. Louis, but this time they didn’t find any vacant motel rooms until they reached Festus. The first rest area they saw that wasn’t crowded was just south of Arnold.

“By that time it was easier to just keep heading for St. Louis,” said Jennifer Bellanger, who made the whole drive even though her son offered to help.

“Not at 14 …,” she said.

William said he misses New Orleans’ hot sauce the most and does not know if he wants to return from an area where his family has been forced to evacuate by a hurricane.

His father is optimistic, though.

“New Orleans will be back, stronger than ever,” he said. “We’ll be back. I think a lot of good is going to come from this.”