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Her home intact, Minnesota native's joy is tempered by guilt

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Katy Lovell and her 8-month-old son might be able to rejoin her husband, John, much sooner than expected. He rode out the storm in central Louisiana so he could restart his small accounting business quicker. (MPR Photo/Lorna Benson)
Katy Lovell, who watched the storm on TV from the safety of her parent's Lake Minnetonka home, already knows that her house in New Orleans is still standing and all her family members who stayed behind are alive. Lovell is relieved, of course. But her relief is mixed with guilt.

St. Paul, Minn. — Katy Lovell knows that her home is OK because she found a satellite image of it on a government Web site. The picture was taken just days after the hurricane hit New Orleans. It's hard to identify individual houses on her small laptop computer screen. So Lovell uses a magnifying glass and her index finger to follow the line of a familiar street.

"You just have to kind of find landmarks and I just trace this down to... I'm getting close to where my house is, you know, see there's no flooding," she says.

Tiles are missing from the roof and trees are down throughout the neighborhood, but this blurry, grey satellite image fills Katy with hope. It means that she and her 8-month-old son might be able to rejoin her husband, John, much sooner. He rode out the storm in central Louisiana so he could restart his small accounting business quicker. His downtown New Orleans office is still flooded, but on Tuesday John was able to retrieve crucial computer drives and client files.

To Katy, the family's good fortune is clearly a blessing. But there are moments when it also weighs on her.

"I mean there's guilt. Some people died because they couldn't leave... You see moms and little babies. They're on TV and they have no water or formula to give their baby and they're like, 'my baby's limp. Please help me.' And you know that's a sign that their baby is going to die and I can't believe it. It's just really sad. I have it so lucky. It just makes you appreciate all that you have," she says.

That doesn't mean that Katy thinks she should have stayed in New Orleans. She says she's glad she got out when she did. She used frequent flier miles to book a free flight to Minnesota the day before the hurricane hit.

But Katy says obviously that wasn't an option for many of New Orleans' poor residents.

"Some people say, 'Oh these people should have left. They should have... taken a bus or something.' But there really wasn't a way to get out until it was too late. Some of them just didn't want to leave their house. It's everything they have," she says.

Even though Katy's husband stayed in Louisiana during the hurricane, he's experiencing similar emotions. He says after the storm passed, he and a group of friends scrambled together some boats to organize a rescue operation.

"You just couldn't get in," she says. "You couldn't get in to help. The National Guard had it sealed off and it was really rough to not be there and not really be able to help."

John is relieved that his wife and son had a place to go that's far away from the devastation, but she misses them. He hasn't seen them in a week and a half. He's hoping to catch a flight to Minnesota for a short visit.

"I feel blessed that my whole family is OK and everyone's safe. That's the main thing. And I can't wait to be reunited with my family."

The Lovell's lives will probably be in limbo for quite some time. They aren't sure how long Katy and the baby will need to stay in Minnesota. They're also not sure where they're going to reopen their accounting business. And Katy still doesn't know if her antiques shop survived the storm.

But once thing is certain: they do want to live in New Orleans again.