Katrina evacuees return to rebuild in NOLA

NEW ORLEANS, LA The numbers are staggering: 1,400 people dead in New Orleans alone; more than 800,000 homes damaged or destroyed, contributing to the tens of billions dollars in damage. Studies show the city is 91 percent back, and its people are optimistic.

Anne and Jeremy Hebert's home in Vista Park stands out somewhat.

"We did it right," Anne Hebert said.

It's raised 12 feet, with an all cinderblock base, 2x6 walls and high impact windows and doors.

"We didn't miss a beat," she said.

It was the only way they would come back to their neighborhood near where two levees broke, and they did it on their own.

"Took us a long time," Anne Hebert said.

The Heberts are the exception in many neighborhoods flooded after Hurricane Katrina.

[KATRINA ANNIVERSARY: Look back at the storm that changed Louisiana]

Step onto a recovery bus tour and you'll find that neighborhood associations and non-profits are working to bring the city back, one house at a time.

Faith-based Samaritans Purse is committed to building 27 near Gentilly.

"We're not only rebuilding houses or building houses, but we found we're restoring hope for a lot of people," said Richard Brown with Samaritan's Purse.

But housing isn't the city's biggest obstacle going forward.

"We have to have more jobs," urban planner Greg Rigamer said.

While the unemployment rate is lower here compared to the rest of the country, New Orleans is down 93,000 since Katrina.

"I hate to be as mundane as saying money solves the problem, but money solves the problem" Rigamer said. "Interestingly enough, it's not money given to us that'll solve the problem; it's money earned."

To that end the tour offered just this week for the five-year anniversary highlights a building boom in the health care sector, but it doesn't ignore the reality of what happened in the Superdome -- or the mad crush to escape.

Five years ago, Eyewitness News was there along I-10 among thousands of people all wanting a seat on a bus that would take them away. It was chaotic, but it led to major change.

The city established a streamlined evacuation plan that was put to the test in 2008 for Hurricane Gustav. So Katrina and its aftermath have had some positive effects.

"It's always good for a change, right?" Jeremy Hebert wondered.

For the Heberts, it's meant adapting.

"It was a long road, and the girls changed schools five times," Anne Hebert said.

They were displaced for four years, moved into their new home last year and are here to stay.

"I feel fine now; if we evacuate, I'll come back to my house," Anne Hebert said.

That family bounced around; they lived with relatives for four years, but they say it was important for them to return.

Studies show 91 percent of the city is back, but one redevelopment expert told us the next five years will be just as critical as the last five in terms of recovery.

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