Nearly six months ago, in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, NBC News came upon countless people whose lives were as much in shambles as the scores of buildings all along the Gulf Coast. The “Today” show's Katie Couric caught up with four people to see how they were or were not putting the pieces back together. Here are their stories.
Four different people, one common story: A hurricane called Katrina left them bruised and battered, with life as they knew it a thing of the past.
On September 6, one week after the hurricane hit, Marlin Defillo was a captain with the New Orleans police department. He showed me the devastation from the ground and from the sky.
Marlin Defillo: This has all the makings of a horror movie, the sadness, the destruction, the pain, and it breaks your heart.
Six months later, this is how New Orleans looks now.
Couric: Last time you took me up in a chopper, you described it as a horror movie. Quite frankly, it still looks like a big mess, the only difference is that there is less water.
Defillo: That is correct, if you look at where we are right now, you see the homes, you don't see water, but you don't see people. It's desolate, it's decimated.
Couric: Are you surprised it's still such a mess?
Defillo: I’m surprised that we haven’t moved quicker.
While rumors that 500 officers (roughly one-third of the police department) had abandoned their posts proved untrue, 57 did leave and never returned, 115 were disciplined and 17 were fired. Captain Defillo has been promoted to deputy chief in charge of internal affairs.
Couric: Do you think you have been able to rehabilitate the police department? It was pretty bad.
Defillo: We think we are in the process of letting the world know we are a professional police department. If you look at the totality, the vast majority stayed, and the vast majority of police officers did the right thing. There were some very isolated incidents that made national press.
Gas leaks, contaminated water, disease and looting made staying in New Orleans almost as dangerous in the aftermath of the storm. Still, Connie Jones and her family refused to budge. “We're surviving quite well,” said Jones.
The next day, they did evacuate, and ended up along with 230 others at a military base in Cape Cod, Mass., where Connie was welcomed by the governor.
Jones: It didn't matter how nice they were. I was a prisoner. I had no say so over my own life.
Five weeks later, Connie Jones was the first in her family to return to New Orleans, and is now back working as a nurse in a nearby nursing home.
Couric: The last time I came to see you I was in waders and the water was up to my thighs. I couldn't see my thighs.
Jones: I wondered if you remembered how high the water was.
Couric: Tell me, what did your house look like when you came back to it?
Jones: It was rat-infested, mold, you just name it and it was in there. Everything I owned was in there.
Couric: Looters didn't get to it?
Jones: No. Looters didn't get to it.
Couric: But it was uninhabitable.
Jones: Yes, it was unsafe.
Couric: I noticed there is a lot of construction going on in the area. Do you think New Orleans will come back?
Jones: I know it is, but I don't know if it will be the same. It has to be better.
Katrina turned the Houston Astrodome into a sea of cots and dazed and distraught faces. Many children were left orphaned, and others, like Glen Henry, were alone and desperate.
Henry did find his family — they had escaped to Atlanta, where he's living now. He's still looking for a job and says his new life is anything but easy.
Henry: It's hard because we have no friends and family, it's so stretched out now.
Judge Robert Eckles was in charge of helping Houston’s newest residents. Today, 150,000 New Orleanians remain in the Lone Star state.
Eckles: I don't think any of us understood the scale of what temporarily living here was. Those folks are not temporarily here — looks like they'll be here for a long time.
While waterlogged New Orleans got the most attention, towns up and down the Gulf Coast were a sea of smashed metal and splintered wood. On Sept 8, in Biloxi, Miss., native son Vincent Creale took me for a ride.
Creale: You look at all these homes here, the historical architecture, and it's going to be hard to replace.
Today, the debris has been cleared, but the phoenix has yet to rise from the ashes. Many are optimistic casino money will bring Biloxi back. Still, the historic structures obliterated by Katrina will never be replaced.
Creale: I think people have the resolve and resilience to work through this, we see a really bright future but it's going to be awhile getting there.
A handful of lives of the hundreds of thousands upended by a passing storm that cut a swath that has left deep and permanent scars.
Jones: I mourn the loss of my city. The people they thought didn't matter, do matter. They can't run the city without them.