Jacob Cowden-Garofalo started Constance Restoration in New Orleans in 1995 and was in high demand for his carpentry skills in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Cowden-Garofalo also co-owns FMC Enterprises, LLC along with brother-in-law and Haverhill resident, Tom Crowley. Crowley temporarily moved to New Orleans to help Cowden-Garofalo and others with their insurance problems.

The devastation left by Hurricane Katrina spurred many from Haverhill to donate money, supplies and even time to the relief effort, but Rocks Village business owner Tom Crowley, whose family was affected by the Category 4 hurricane, wanted to do more.

One phone call change his life for months.

Crowley is co-owner of FMC Enterprises, LLC with his brother-in-law, Jacob Cowden-Garofalo, a resident of New Orleans. Cowden-Garofalo invests in real estate and manages restoration projects for FMC. Crowley is the insurance consultant for the business.

Three weeks after the storm, Cowden-Garofalo placed an urgent call to Crowley to tell him that he and his wife, Valerie, had been evacuated to Meridian, Mississippi. They were unsure of their future, and anxious about the damage awaiting them back home.

"Tom, I think I lost everything I own and I can't remember where my policies are, what coverage I had, or even who my insurance company is," said Cowden-Garofalo in the phone conversation. "My agent lost his home and was evacuated and I can't reach him. What do I do now?"

Crowley made the biggest commitment of his life since he married Cowden-Garofalo's sister, Nelle. He moved to New Orleans indefinitely. His main objectives were clear:

First, help Cowden-Garofalo repair his home and get his other business, Constance Restoration, operating again.

Second, help as many people as he could appeal their property and flood insurance claims.

The business partners also helped owners of historic properties develop proposals for the complete restoration and renovation of their homes and businesses. Crowley understands the ins and outs of this perfectly because he owns The Countess House at 29 E. Main St. in Historic Rocks Village.

Crowley flew to New Orleans on Oct. 15, 2005, and did not return permanently until more than nine months later on July 20, 2006.

"We were living without electricity and water in (Cowden-Garofalo's) house, surviving on military donated MRE's (meals ready to eat)," Crowley said of life during the first two months in New Orleans. "There were tents set up in the middle of town; one day (the Coast Guard and Red Cross) would pass out water, another day, food. It was a third-world experience. Nothing was open and thousands of useless refrigerators lined the curbs."

Crowley kept record of the merciless power of the storm and its unprejudiced path of destruction in a notebook that rarely left his side.

"Everywhere was flooded, damaged by wind, looted or any combinations of those three; some people were hit by everything," Crowley explained. "(Cowden-Garofalo's) (primary) house sustained heavy roof damage, their rental house sustained wind damage and their home on Lake Pontchartrain disappeared, they never even found a stick of wood from that | just an empty lot."

Crowley, who enjoys writing narratives, short stories and poetry, heard the horror stories of those who lived through the storm and retold many of them in the form of poems. He also heard of humanity turning on itself in the aftermath of the storm, like insurance companies abandoning their customers just when the policy holders needed their providers most.

"Everyone had insurance problems," Crowley said. "I have 25 years of insurance experience, so I helped some settle their insurance claims and others to apply for supplemental coverage."

One couple's insurance nightmare stands out among the others in Crowley's notes. The couple's West End Boulevard home, 3 miles from Lake Pontchartrain, suffered from 10 feet of water damage and had its roof, which was covered in irreplaceable cobalt-blue custom tiles, destroyed.

"First, the insurance company wanted to pay for only half the cost of a regular asphalt roof, even though the owners had replacement coverage. Further, the company tried to cancel the policy right after Katrina hit. It claimed it had not received an October 2005 premium, ignoring the fact that there was no mail service, so the owners never received the notice. The owners were a step ahead of the insurance company | they had sent $1,000 anyway, just in case. But the insurance company returned the check and canceled the policy," Crowley explained. "I got it reinstated (for the owners) and increased their claim by $50,000."

Crowley who returned to the Gulf Coast just last week for another visit, said recovery is still far from over.

"I drove along the Mississippi coast and saw miles of area with every house gone," he said. "Imagine Plum Island being hit by a 30-foot wave and every house being knocked off its foundation, leaving only pylons and trees. That is what it looks like."

Back in New Orleans, even the people who lost everything were somehow able to stay positive.

"One thing that was really amazing was during the worst of times there were still people ready to laugh about it: even those without a house," Crowley said. "They still had Mardi Gras in February 2006. It was about half the size, but it was one of the best things for the city."

Though 200,000 people left New Orleans, many more remain and they are determined to rebuild and restore life in the historically rich, lively and unique city.

This Week's Circulars