JIM LEHRER: Now, two stories about starting over after Hurricane Katrina. First, a New Orleans family struggles to decide whether to rebuild. NewsHour correspondent Tom Bearden has the story.
TOM BEARDEN: Sydney and Ellen Raye Miller have lived in the Lakeview Subdivision in New Orleans for more than 30 years.
ELLEN RAYE MILLER: The sofa ended up on top of the bar.
TOM BEARDEN: This is all that's left of the home where they planned to live out the rest of their lives in retirement. They don't begrudge the attention that other New Orleans residents from the 9th Ward and other low-income areas have gotten. But they think government has all but forgotten the storm affected the middle class, too.
ELLEN RAYE MILLER: I think there are a lot of middle class people who had all of their equity in their homes. Now they've lost their homes, and now they've lost their homes, and they have nothing, and I'm talking about older people who really can't start over again.
SIDNEY MILLER: Everyone is sympathizing with the 9th Ward and rightfully so. But our situation, as my wife has put it, the middle class, I think to a degree have been ignored in all of this situation, and it's just tough on them as it is on the other people.
TOM BEARDEN: The Miller's five-bedroom 3,000-square-foot house is close to the 17th Street Canal. When the storm breached the levy, their neighborhood was flooded with more than 8 feet of water.
They Millers were out of town when it happened; they wanted to believe that their home had escaped the worst of it.
ELLEN RAYE MILLER: Sydney didn't believe we had water here. He just envisioned that the house was still up and that everybody else had water but we did not. Our children were a little concerned about him because they felt like he really wasn't dealing with the realities.
We saw the picture of the house on the Internet, and his car was parked in the front, and we couldn't see his car, and I kept saying to him, you've got to understand that the water is higher than your car.
TOM BEARDEN: They paid a contractor to strip the house down to the studs.
ELLEN RAYE MILLER: This is the master bedroom.
TOM BEARDEN: Everything inside was ruined. All their possessions are now at the city dump.
TOM BEARDEN: What are your plans for this place?
ELLEN RAYE MILLER: We don't know. It depends on which one of us you ask.
TOM BEARDEN: Well, what do you think?
ELLEN RAYE MILLER: I don't want to come back here. The loss was too great. And the pain is just too strong.
All of my history was in this house -- the things I had from my parents and my grandparents and from my children - and it's all gone. It's just gone. So it's from Aug. 29 back, I didn't exist. I had no life. I have no mementos of that life. And it was here that it was all lost. So I really don't want to come back here.
TOM BEARDEN: But you do.
SIDNEY MILLER: I do.
TOM BEARDEN: Why?
SIDNEY MILLER: I just feel like that we can make this work. I feel like that the neighborhood will eventually come back. We're in a position where I think we can wait a little while before we make that decision. But I feel like that we can come back and make a life for ourselves again in this home.
TOM BEARDEN: The Millers received $250,000 in flood insurance payments from FEMA. But that doesn't come close to replacing what they lost.
TOM BEARDEN: Will the insurance cover the reconstruction costs?
SYDNEY MILLER: It will not. The insurance will not cover the reconstruction costs. We had flood insurance, of which we got the maximum, which will not replace this house. Our homeowners paid very little against the loss. So, that will be a challenge, also.
TOM BEARDEN: Katrina also virtually wiped out the real estate assets the Millers were counting on to support them in retirement. Miller showed us an apartment building he's rented out for more than 25 years. He owns more than 100 rental units altogether.
Before the storm, they were completely occupied. Katrina flooded them all and now he's down to only 10 tenants. He's still making mortgage payments, even though most of the units no longer generate any income. It'll be expensive to repair them but he can't start the work until his insurance company pays off.
SYDNEY MILLER: You can't seem to get settlements promptly. Come out, they do their estimates, and then we don't hear from them. It's been nearly five months.
TOM BEARDEN: If you were to get a check tomorrow, how long do you estimate it would make take to repair all of your property?
SIDNEY MILLER: The materials that we would have to get are scarce. The help that we would have to get is not as plentiful as it was in the past. So that's going to hold us back some, but I think we can -- I think it would take at least a year.
TOM BEARDEN: Miller says many of his former tenants want to come back to the city. He says people are so desperate to have a place to live that he gets four to five phone calls a day, asking when he will have apartments for rent.
In fact, while he was showing us another property, a former tenant who is now living in Alabama drove up to see if her old apartment was available.
SIDNEY MILLER: We'll keep in touch with you. You have my number. Let me give you that number.
TOM BEARDEN: The Millers themselves found a temporary place to live -- a small one-bedroom apartment. They count themselves lucky to have it. There are hundreds of people on the waiting list at their current apartment complex.
For now, the Millers are waiting to make a decision about what to do next.
ELLEN RAYE MILLER: The only definite decision we've made thus far is not to make a decision.
SIDNEY MILLER: Yeah. That's right.
ELLEN RAYE MILLER: -- to give ourselves a year.
SIDNEY MILLER: Give us some time to see what --
ELLEN RAYE MILLER: We'll sit on this house; we'll let it sit like this and see what happens to the neighborhood, see what happens to the city.
The city is in pain. It's in great pain now. It's truly a dead city. And it's not just one segment; it covers across the entire city. Every socioeconomic group is in pain over this.
TOM BEARDEN: The Millers' neighbors seem to share their quandary. Some want to rebuild. Others are selling their homes for a fraction of their previous value and want to start a new life away from New Orleans.
JIM LEHRER: Our second rebuilding story comes from a jazz musician who lost nearly everything. NewsHour correspondent Spencer Michels talked with him. SPENCER MICHELS: Fifty-one-year-old clarinetist Michael White knows what it means to miss New Orleans; he's been gone for four months, and this was his first chance to warm up with his Liberty Brass Band.
This gig, a joyful welcoming ceremony for students at Tulane University, was a far cry from the disaster that occurred when Hurricane Katrina destroyed his house and nearly all his belongings.
White, one of New Orleans most prominent musicians and an expert on its music and culture, returned to his classroom at Xavier University where he teaches African-American music.
MICHAEL WHITE: Wow, new desks.
SPENCER MICHELS: He wanted to see how his classroom fared since much of the school had been underwater.
MICHAEL WHITE: Oh, yeah.
SPENCER MICHELS: He was pleased with what he found.
MICHAEL WHITE: That'll be okay.
SPENCER MICHELS: And much more upbeat than he was last October when the NewsHour's Jeff Brown first caught up with him.
MICHAEL WHITE: This was my piano. I used to have rehearsals in here.
SPENCER MICHELS: His house in the Jentilly section of town was devastated, and so was his extensive collection of rare jazz artifacts. White, like many in the city, was depressed.
MICHAEL WHITE: This is my whole life, I mean, and it's gone, so --
SPENCER MICHELS: The questions he now faces, the decisions he has to make about his job, his house, his family, about his life are questions nearly all New Orleanians have to deal with these days.
And for White, the hurricane itself was only the beginning.
MICHAEL WHITE: There is sort of what I call the after-flow of the hurricane, which is pretty much almost as bad as the hurricane itself. It's what happens after. And, you know, what happens after, you have to face a lot of real problems. Like you are faced with the fact that basically, one, you're homeless; and two, that you have to figure out what's going to happen with your home.
So there are battles with insurance companies. Outside of emptying out your home you cannot make a move beyond that because you don't know if eminent domain is going to be imposed, then you're going to lose the land, if the land will be taken from you. There's talk of that.
SPENCER MICHELS: You think your home, maybe, could be demolished by the city?
MICHAEL WHITE: Oh, quite possibly. Oh, quite possibly. There is talk about that. Right now, I have nothing definite to go on. My neighborhood is a ghost town.
SPENCER MICHELS: The city has yet to decide if it will buy up and bulldoze entire neighborhoods. And if so, which ones.
Like many displaced, White is caring for relatives out of town.
MICHAEL WHITE: I have an 83-year-old mother and an 80-year-old aunt with me in Houston. And physically and emotionally, the process of moving four times -- of worry, of grief, about their homes, about their friends, the physical hardships of the travel and displacement -- have been very devastating and, you know, a couple of weeks ago, my mother had a breakdown and had to be hospitalized. It looks like she will probably need to have around-the-clock care for the rest of her life.
SPENCER MICHELS: Where is she?
MICHAEL WHITE: She's in Houston, Texas, right now.
SPENCER MICHELS: So is that a pull for you, that maybe you should be staying in Houston and not being here in New Orleans?
MICHAEL WHITE: It is very difficult in Houston because there is not that same sense of music. I mean, music, outside of New Orleans, is like everywhere else. It's something reserved for a nightclub at night, sometimes certain parts of town, adults, alcohol.
In New Orleans, jazz was -- music is a way of life, a part of community life, that's not confined to adults and seedy parts of town and nocturnal activities or even commercialism per se. Jazz is a part of the spirit, the life blood of the city -- like food, it's like breathing. It's a necessity. So what you find is that people -- other places don't have that same sense of community in musical traditions that we have.
SPENCER MICHELS: You, of course, have to make a choice right now whether you will come back on the faculty here and stay in New Orleans. What way are you leaning at this point?
MICHAEL WHITE: Well, you know, this is probably the most difficult period in my life and probably the most difficult period in the cultural history of New Orleans. And one of the lessons that I learned, and I try to teach this to my students, is that one of the values of listening to jazz, especially New Orleans jazz, is not just for the danceable nature and the great music that it is, but also because of the lessons that it teaches and that can be used today.
And one of those great lessons is that you have to improvise. You have to be able to take what comes and make something good happen with it. And, you know, we see that, not only in jazz but all of New Orleans culture. If you look at food, like gumbo, for example, you take many different things that don't necessarily seem to work together, pork and seafood and poultry, and you mix it together and you make something new and exciting. And that's what jazz does.
MICHAEL WHITE: Jazz can take something as simple as a folk song or European march and give it new life, make it personal. You have to learn how to adjust.
So it's time for me now to sort of practice what I preach, and that is to use the lessons that I've learned from the elder jazz musicians and from being a jazz musician, on how to improvise not just in playing, but in everything that I do in life.
SPENCER MICHELS: So you're going to stay here at least for now?
MICHAEL WHITE: For now I'm back home.