[StBernard] Bonds formed, lives changed after Hurricane Katrina

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Wed Aug 30 21:24:15 EDT 2006

Bonds formed, lives changed after Hurricane Katrina
Upcounty families, hurricane evacuees reflect a year later
Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2006

It's quiet at the Libby house in Germantown.
Gone are the huge batches of sweet yellow cornbread and red beans and rice,
the extra-long kitchen table and folding chairs, and the carefully timed
cooking schedule.

One year after Hurricane Katrina hit, the 30 people from one Louisiana
church who sought refuge in Montgomery County have returned to the Gulf
Coast and are beginning to rebuild their lives.

Among them were 11 members of the Colna and Lay families who squeezed into
the home of the Rev. Ron Libby, pastor of the Christian Life Center in
Gaithersburg, and his wife Linda.

Reached by phone in Tuesday, Jimmy Colna talked about what he's thinking and
how he's feeling about his Katrina experience one year later.

''I'm thinking of the good times and bad times. Thinking about the people in
Maryland and missing them too," said Colna, who left the Libby home with his
wife, daughter and two grandsons shortly after Thanksgiving.

Their stay at the Libby home was temporary. But what's left -- the bond
among people who became family in the face of tragedy -- is permanent.

''I grew very close and very fond of everybody," Linda Libby said Friday.
''I was outnumbered in my own house."

They celebrated a wedding, Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays, a graduation.

The Lay family left the Libby home in June, soon after the eldest son, Keith
Lay II, earned his diploma from Damascus High School.

''I come from a really small family," Linda Libby said. ''The most people I
ever lived with in my life was three -- my husband and two kids."

Up the street in Clarksburg, the Rev. Ron and Linda Libby's son and
daughter-in-law - the Rev. Sean and Monique Libby - took in three families.
Other churchgoers in Germantown and Frederick opened their homes to evacuees
who came from Chalmette, La., where Monique Libby's father is pastor of the
First Pentecostal Church of Chalmette.

Together, they celebrated a rebirth.

The church filled with 18 feet of water during Hurricane Katrina.

Members of the Christian Life Center took two working trips to the church
where they, and several other groups from around the country, helped gut,
clean and rebuild the space and landscape. New carpeting and pews were
recently installed, Linda Libby said.

In July, 75 people from the Christian Life Center, including the church Mass
choir and youth choir, went to Chalmette for celebration and prayer, she

Last week, Sean and Monique Libby were in Chalmette. Churchgoers welcomed
new members with food, games and prayer. Sean Libby helped minister, his
mother said.

''This week will be a 'We're back on our feet and we're better than we ever
were before,'" Libby said Friday. ''It's going to be a rebirth."

For some rebirth is a slower process.

The Colnas lived in the Libby basement until they returned to Louisiana
after celebrating Thanksgiving in Maryland.

On Tuesday, Donna Colna was at their still-empty home in Chalmette while new
doors and windows were finally installed.

The Colnas' trailer provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency is
parked on his father-in-law's property about 20 miles away, Jimmy Colna

''We've got a place to stay and that's all that matters," he said. The
house, he said, ''looks like a shell inside."

The house next door was bulldozed.

''We're dreaming. We've got it all planned in our heads," Colna said of the
renovations yet to be done.

But there is good news.

Their daughter Anna Colna, 22, graduated from the University of New Orleans
with a degree in business administration, her dad said.

Slowly, things are getting back to normal.

''The thing that gets me the most is they're not going back to a perfect
situation," Linda Libby said. ''I'm back to my normal life here, but they're
still in the middle of a tragedy."

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