Five Years Later, Families Move Home After Years of Displacement

Five years after Katrina, families are finally going home.

ByEmily Friedman
August 28, 2010, 10:54 PM

NEW ORLEANS -- Aug. 29, 2010 — -- For the first time in five years Sharen Williams and her two daughters finally have a place to call home.

Not only was their home ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, which sent 20 feet of water surging through their house, but the foundation they had hoped to mend was accidently demolished in the storm's aftermath.

Today is their first day back home in Arabi, a neighborhood in New Orleans that was one of the hardest hit during the storm five years ago.

"I can honestly say I'm home, home," said Williams, outside her freshly-painted, three-bedroom house. "I'm one of the fortunate ones cause there are a still lot of people who don't have a home."

Williams is one of the 290 families helped by the St. Bernard Parish Rebuilding Program, which dedicates volunteer efforts and fundraising to rebuild the homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Fifty more houses are currently under construction in St. Bernard's Parish, where 100 percent of the homes were rendered uninhabitable after the storm.

To date only half of the parish population has returned, a number the St. Bernard Project hopes to improve with families like the Williams.

"It's good for me because I wanted this for my children," said Williams. "I can be comfortable because I know I have a roof over my children here."

Kenneth Dorsey's family is another one that has been helped by the St. Bernard Project. Dorsey and Williams' homes were the two houses volunteers worked on for 50 straight hours during the days leading up to the five year Hurricane Katrina anniversary.

Dorsey's home was demolished during the hurricane when a river barge broke through the flood wall in the Lower Ninth Ward, crushing his house and everything in it.

"The Dorsey's have a tragic story, and now five years later we're finally getting them back into their house," said Liz McCartney, a co-founder of the St. Bernard Project.

"I can't imagine how difficult it must be, but I know after meeting the Dorsey's that they're incredible resilient and strong," she said. "I think they're just really excited to close the Katrina chapter and start the new chapter of their lives."

Dorsey hopes to soon have his own house up and running.

"We lost everything; our home, all our possessions," Dorsey told ABC News, before donning his own work clothes and joining volunteers to hang dry wall.

"It will be wonderful to sleep in our home, here in New Orleans once again," he said.

Dorsey coped not only with the devastating loss caused by Hurricane Katrina, but also by Hurricane Rita. He and his family had just settled in Lake Charles, La., when that home was flattened by the storm.

Jori Dorsey, Dorsey's wife, said that the hardest thing she's found about being away from home for five years has been the inability to act like a family.

She says she can't wait to hang photos on her walls and to cook her family dinner.

"I am happy right now, very happy," she said. "I can't wait for it to be finished."

"It's been hectic not knowing where the end is, where you're going to wind up where you're going to live," she said, "So this finally gives us some ability to be stable."

"It's very emotional, we went through a lot during Katrina and after Katrina and this is finally coming home, I don't think it's really hit me all the way."

For the Williamses, they too are finding it hard to believe that they'll be able to shut the door on their post-Katrina lives and start looking into the future.

One of Williams' daughters, Miechel'le, took time to put the finishing touches on her new bedroom by writing the names of all of the volunteers that helped build her home.

Like her mother, Miechel'le says the emotions haven't quite hit her yet.

"I was blessed by the angels," said Williams, who recalls the day her 16-year-old daughter Johnay first saw their nearly-completed home.

"She just froze," said Williams. "She couldn't walk."

"She has told me that she doesn't even need a mattress, just give me a blanket and a pillow and I'll lie right on the floor," she said.

"I'm trying to keep these tears from falling…but I don't know if it's going to work," she said.

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