A Grateful Christmas for Katrina-Hit Families

( [email protected] ) Dec 26, 2005 11:57 PM EST

Amid the devastation and filth still lying around in New Orleans, families joined together in tiny trailers, churches had worshippers, and the local park still held its annual Christmas celebration.

Despite the wreckage caused by Hurricane Katrina four months ago, people were grateful to be alive and with their families this Christmas.

Cheryl Anderson, 46, awoke before dawn on Christmas morn to begin cooking in the tiny trailer she shares with her husband, son and three grandchildren.

"I didn't think I'd live to see this Christmas," Anderson told the Associated Press. "Now we're having everything like a regular Christmas — the gumbo, the ham, all of it. Everything except a tree. That won't fit in the trailer."

In another FEMA trailer, Charlie and Andrea Licciardi watched daughters Alixandria, 5, and Abigale, 4, open presents and point out how Santa must have visited their trailer.

The Crescent City remains a shell of its former self this Christmas, with only slivers of the city up and running. Still, residents are reviving holiday traditions while trying to rebuild their lives.

Thousands came to New Orleans' City Park for an annual holiday tour, Celebration in the Oaks.

"We needed to bring some tradition, some joy back to the city," said Janet Larue, chairwoman of the celebration. "You see these children's eyes, and they're just so happy."

Miles of houses stood deserted in the lonely city littered with toppled signs, flooded cars, and rescue boats.

At a crushed house, someone spray-painted "Merry Christmas" on a wrecked car, and a stuffed reindeer sat in the driver's seat, AP reported.

"Nothing's going to be like it was," said Frank O'Donnell to Dallas News. "But thank God we're here."

Less than a fifth of the city's residents who fled came back.

Those who returned include congregants of First Emmanuel Baptist Church, who returned to worship in time for Christmas.

"We've come home," the pastor's wife, Lila Southall, told CNN. "My house is gone, but I'm still home for Christmas."

Families displaced outside of New Orleans made the best of their situations and found joy in being with their family.

A family displaced to Utah served Christmas meals to neighbors in the same situation. Jackie and Ronald Herbert's small kitchen had a steaming pot of gumbo and rolls, sweet-potato pies piled high, and in the dining room were baked ham, stuffed peppers, and white rice. A Christmas tree filled the corner. Children and guests ran to and fro.

An estimated 370 families were in Salt Lake City, Utah. Jackie Herbert told the Salt Lake Tribune, "If we'd been in New Orleans, none of us would have met. But after what had happened, we're all family now. Many of us don't have our families here, but we have each other."

Home is where the heart is, and this Christmas was no different, according to Darlene Porche, 53, the matron of a family of seven children and one grandbaby, according to one USA Today report.

"Wherever we are together is a home, so if it's in a trailer this year, then that's where we are," Porche said.