Five Years Later, Roy Arrigo Still Marks Where Water Drowned His Home

The breach of the 17th Street Canal floodwalls destroyed Arrigo's home.

NEW ORLEANS, Aug. 28, 2010 — -- New Orleans resident Roy Arrigo doesn't own anything that is more than five years old.

Arrigo's home, located just 50 feet from the 17th Street Canal where the floodwalls infamously breached after Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, was under more than seven feet of water, flooded for months following the storm.

"If those levees had held, people would be scratching their heads and asking, 'What was the name of that one storm that came real close to us back in late August of '05?'" Arrigo said.

"In New Orleans, that's what people would be saying," he said, "But everyone knows that name well -- Katrina."

Arrigo, 54, said it isn't the storm he blames for the damage to his house -- he lost essentially everything he owned at the time -- but the failure of the floodwalls.

"Because of engineering mistakes, the levee walls failed when they were exposed to forces that were far, far less than what they were supposed to be built to sustain," he said. "And those mistakes and those levee failures caused the destruction of about 80 percent of New Orleans, and caused a loss of all my material possessions."

Today, on the eve of the five-year anniversary of the devastating storm, Arrigo told ABC News that he still doesn't trust the levee repairs the Army Corps of Engineers are working on completing by next year. But like so many natives of the Crescent City, he always knew he'd return.

"We'll always been vulnerable [to a storm]," Arrigo said.

"Those critics who say we're stupid for living here -- living in a bowl -- they tell us that if we live below sea level that it's to be expected at some point [that our homes will flood]," he said. "But these levees and floodwalls can be built better and you can hold back these storms."

In 2005, Arrigo said he didn't believe a category 3 storm like Katrina would destroy his home the way it did.

"At first, I had a moment of, 'Oh well, maybe my house was in a slightly higher area,'" Arrigo said of the hours just after the storm touched down. "But my house is so close to the levee failure we could see it in the media photos and we could see it, we knew we had water, real deep."

Hurricane Katrina Five Years Later: Focused on Recovery

A plaque in Arrigo's front hallway marks exactly where the water stopped, at just about seven feet above the floors.

"The way that I coped with it was that rather than focusing on my losses, I focused on what I needed to do to recover," he said.

"I got to this area and I'd walk through just an unbelievable environment and I remember, to keep my sanity, I'd walk around and I'd think, 'Well, what will this area look like in five years?'" he said. "I'd try to look ahead.

"Here we are five years later and it's kind of neat because it's actually better than what I envisioned," Arrigo said. "I envisioned a pretty good place, and it's better than that."

Besides the truck he drove away in and a flashlight he found in the backseat, Arrigo had left his home in 2005 with nothing.

"We didn't really have the time we needed to grab stuff, so we left with very, very little," he said. "Fortunately we did have a lot of our pictures with us but we had almost nothing, no clothes other than the clothes on our back."

Arrigo describes his neighborhood -- now nearly 60 percent repopulated -- in the weeks after the hurricane as a "scene out of an end of the world movie where there is no lighting, no electricity, no movement."

Nearly 500 people in Arrigo's area died, and 1,800 perished overall in New Orleans.

"Because of the flooding and the mud, there was no color," he said. "Even walking through here would be like a black and white photograph. Everything was a shade of gray."

He was first able to re-enter his home on Oct. 7, 2005, and by May of the following year, his home was completely rebuilt, everything but the wood floors reconstructed and paid for by Arrigo himself.

Arrigo recalls government workers still taking stock of the damage in his neighborhood being shocked that he'd been able to rebuild so quickly.

But rebuilding, and doing it quickly, was a necessity, he said.

"New Orleans is a very special city, my family has been here for hundreds of years," he said. "It's not just another city. It's got a soul of its own.

Hurricane Katrina Five Years Later: Looking Forward

"The people, the real New Orleanians, we are bound here," he said.

Arrigo said he'll participate in some of the anniversary events held around New Orleans on Sunday, the actual five-year anniversary of the storm.

But what's he's most looking forward to is the day after the anniversary -- when he says he hopes a sense of normalcy will return.

"On Monday, it's back to work," he said. "There is an element of looking forward to getting past all of this."