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Families of the gulf recovery effort

Rebuilding one family at a time
Numbers will always be a big part of any Hurricane Katrina or Rita story. Numbers measure the speed of the winds, the height of the waves, the number of people missing and killed, the homes destroyed.

Today, the devastating numbers don’t mean as much as they did in the immediate aftermath. The science of a catastrophic storm has given way to the humanity. And rebuilding is a story told best on a smaller scale―one person, one family at a time.

An introduction to the stories below
For Habitat for Humanity International, Teresa K. Weaver, senior writer/editor and Ezra Millstein, photographer, traveled along the Gulf Coast in 2007, talking to Habitat families. At that time, some were waiting for houses and some had already moved in. Surprised by the damage still left to repair along the Gulf Coast, they were also struck by the hope and optimism of the survivors they interviewed.


Waiting and working:
Debra Reid is a licensed paramedic and a large-animal rescue volunteer. She and her four children shared one room in a homeless shelter for a year, while working towards a new Habitat house.



A backyard wedding:
Samantha Bordages, born with partial arms and legs, is also a certified lifeguard. She types 80 to 110 words a minute, using no special keyboard, and can help change a tire on the car when needed. She dreams of a backyard wedding at her new Habitat home.



A home of her own:
Gisele Brown, 75, “hammered, painted, cleaned, scraped, caulked” for sweat equity for her Habitat home. After living 20 years in a mobile home which Katrina destroyed, she is finally a homeowner.



Mom and daughter survivors:
Joy Velez and her 18-year-old daughter, Krystal, say they’re the luckiest people in the world because they survived.



New life and a house:
Cleve Baxley, a 44-year-old mailman, turned his life around after Katrina.



Rent hikes follow storm:
Twins Elaine and Ella, with their parents Joey and Kristen Maddox, struggled to find a place to live after Katrina. The same apartments that were $450 before the storm soared to $800 afterward.



A storm and a stroke:
Russell Abbrecht survived a stroke and Katrina, but volunteered his sweat equity for a new Habitat home.



On the roof with God:
Says Rhonda Reese, “While I was up on the roof during the storm, God and I had a talk. I made some promises.”