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'We've seen a heck of a lot more good than bad'

Of the 326 employees at the Domino Sugar refinery alongside the Mississippi River, 250 lost their homes. Today, 198 of them are camped out, many with their families, in a trailer park next to the plant.

The plant, the largest sugar refinery in the United States, was averaging 6.6 million pounds of sugar a day before Katrina flooded it and the rest of St. Bernard Parish. Initially, 21 employees moved onto a barge and got the plant running again. But Domino needed a full workforce, so it obtained more than 200 travel-trailers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and created the trailer village.

Plant manager Pete Maraia says that many of the workers remain anxious about their futures and that the company has begun offering counseling.

'You could say we have a small town around a big facility. We're very proud of it, and we feel like it's temporary, and it has to be temporary because it's not a place to raise a family.

"We think that ... we're a better refinery. We think that people going through a challenge like this, they will be stronger. Tough times bring strength out of people. I think a lot of our people have shown a tremendous amount of courage. Their resolve to get this plant up and running, I'll never forget.

"So it's a great story, but there's a lot of challenges ahead of us.

"I think the biggest challenge, from the standpoint of our employees, is, where am I going to raise my family? Is it going to be what we call North Shore? Is it going to be in St. Bernard? Or is it going to be out of state? That's the things we're looking at very closely to see what we can do to help people.

"Everything's slow now; it's in slow motion. As Americans, as you know, we're not used to that. We want things very quickly. And that's what the hardest challenge is, is to be patient. It's easy for me to say. My house was not affected. I don't know how they feel. I can sympathize with them. As a plant manager, I can make sure we have the sensitivity so that they can get through these troubled times.

"I have seen our employees help each other, too, work together and, more importantly, care for each other. I think you see the best and the worst in people in a situation like this, but I think we've seen a heck of a lot more good than bad, and I think that's been rewarding, too.

"The best thing that I could say is America is a great country, and hopefully people don't forget, because there's a heck of a lot of work to be done down here. The weather's gone, but the aftermath's still here.

"So I say just don't forget about this area and the people. They shouldn't be forgotten."

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