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By Marconi Calindas

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, April 7) –For young couple Jessica and Jeff Zimmerman, Saipan is the most beautiful thing that has happened to them since August 2005, when Hurricane Katrina unleashed its fury on New Orleans and left them and their lives flapping in the wind.

The two dental practitioners reached the shores of Saipan in February to work for Toothworks, soon after company president and owner Dr. Alan Markoff offered them the opportunity to once again practice their profession.

The couple has been married for seven years. Jeff and Jessica both obtained their dental degree at the Louisiana State University. They had thriving professions and owned two homes-one in New Orleans and one in Kiln, Mississippi. Then Katrina hit.

Jeff, 29, said that rain and floods are always expected when a hurricane is in the horizon, so when they heard about Katrina they immediately left their home in New Orleans and stayed in the neighboring city of Jackson, Mississippi.

Nothing, however, prepared them for the utter destruction that was visited upon the Big Easy by the catastrophic winds of the Category 3 storm. Jeff said his heart broke when he went back to check their newly renovated homes and found them wrecked and "totally destroyed."

"I felt awful. Everything we had were all soaking wet. Our roof came off. Our cars were flooded," Jeff said, adding that he never thought the damage would reach them since their house is 15 miles from the coast. He said his father's dental clinic was also not spared.

"It was complete chaos in the city as thousands lost their properties and homes due to Katrina," he said.

For five months the couple lived on a trailer provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Jeff said he and his wife are luckier than those who lived in tents. "It was a tight life. We didn't have any place to stay, so the trailer was better than nothing," Jeff said.

Jessica said the experience in New Orleans was overwhelming but "living on a trailer was a lot better than living in a tent."

She said that what has been reported in the media does not even begin to encompass the extent of the damage and the condition of the people in New Orleans. "People can't really grasp how large and how far it [damage] goes," she said, adding that everyone she knows in the city was affected by the disaster.

Toothworks president Alan Markoff said he extended help to the young couple because he thought that the two deserved a second chance. Markoff originally offered the job to Jeff's father, who has been Markoff's friend for the past 25 years.

Jeff's father accepted Markoff's offer but soon after recommended his son in his stead. Markoff immediately arranged for the transfer of the young couple to the CNMI.

Currently, both Jeff and Jessica work for Toothworks as resident dentists and dental hygienists. "They are wonderful young people. They blended well with the clinic and on the island," said Markoff.

Coming to Saipan was not too easy, though, for the young couple. Jeff said it took them at least 30 hours of travel time to reach Saipan. "We felt bad leaving home," said Jessica.

The couple said they fell in love with Saipan immediately. Since they have lived near rivers in New Orleans, the adjustments would not be too difficult, said Jeff. The couple is into water sports such as wakeboarding and diving, which is why they both feel close to the island.

Jessica said the people on Saipan have been very warm and friendly since they came here. "People here are nice."

Both said they would recommend the islands to other Americans who also deserve a second chance. "I would recommend Saipan since there are opportunities here," said Jessica.

The couple said they would initially be staying for six months but would love to extend their stay and invite their families to come over and enjoy the island. They said everyone in their family is very curious and have been asking them how it feels to live on the islands.

The couple is planning to fly back to New Orleans in the summer to check on the condition of their family and their homes.

April 7, 2006

Saipan Tribune http://www.saipantribune.com

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