Katrina victims at peace with Ill. lives

August 29, 2010 (CHICAGO) More than 1,800 lives were lost, and countless others changed.

Many survivors headed to the Chicago area, seeking shelter from the storm and the failed levees.

Approximately 80 percent of New Orleans, flooded when the levees broke. Some families started their lives all over after escaping to the Chicago area, and volunteers continue to play a role in the recovery.

Homes have been rebuilt and over 80 percent of New Orleans population is back. While the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is being celebrated for its progress, there are thousands of families that will never go back.

Wearing her Bears hat proudly while she cheers on her son, Pam Pittman and her five children now call Waukegan home.

"We can't live in the past. We just take what happened five years ago and turning our lives and make it a better place," Pittman said.

Three days after Katrina destroyed Pittman's New Orleans home, she and her family drove all the Chicago in a pick-up truck. Her 13-year-old son, Glenn Derouen, says Illinois has given him more opportunities.

"Our lives have changed up here," he said.

The American Red Cross of Greater Chicago helped close to 8,000 families who evacuated New Orleans and relocated to Illinois. The agency says it was overwhelmed with people who needed help as well as those who wanted to help.

"I think one of the things Hurricane Katrina taught everyone was the worst does happen and we need to be prepared," Martha Carlos of the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago.

Before Katrina, the Red Cross has 25,000 volunteers to deploy. Now, it has 100,000.

Successful volunteer efforts were celebrated Sunday at Old St. Pat's Church, a special Mass followed by a Mardi Gras-style reception was held for all the volunteers who helped rebuild a Mississippi community.

"The people made a five-year commitment to the town of Waveland, the community of St. Claire, the Catholic church, to help them rebuild their lives, community and their church," said Fr. John Cusick of Old St. Patrick's Church.

Back in Waukegan, Pam Pittman says while New Orleans has a long way to go before it is completely rebuilt. She refuses to live in anger.

"I don't think we will ever live in peace. I have a greater appreciation for life," Pittman said.

Pam Pittman's postivie attitude helped her Sunday night when her son Glenn broke his ankle during a football game.

The family tells ABC7 he is going to be fine and still dreams of being an NFL player some day. Pittman says moving to Illinois pushed her family to take risks they never would have while living in New Orleans because she says they lives were comfortable there.

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