Thousands of new residents are calling the Coastal Empire home this year. It's not just the real estate boom. When Hurricane Katrina forced them to evacuate, many left behind their homes and belongings and headed for our area. What they've found here is encouraging many of them to stay.
We talked with students, seniors, and families. They're all different, with different reasons for coming here, but they all found a warm welcome in our community.
"Everyone in New Orleans had heard that this was coming one day," said Nova Thriffiley.
She will never forget the day it did. She evacuated her New Orleans apartment for her home near Baton Rouge where she rode out the storm. "I was there the night Katrina came and it was terrifying," she recalled. "I just thought the whole roof might blow off at any time."
She lost part of her roof and ended up here. Like many others, she packed up a few of her belongings and left town, taking another woman who needed to evacuate to Savannah. Little did she realize she would find her new home and a new church.
"I had discovered this whole community in Savannah that was so unlike anything I had ever known: the true meaning of Southern hospitality," Nova said.
For now, home sweet home is in a hotel. "It's extremely comfortable. I set up a little home office in there and there's a kitchenette."
Nova spends most of her time looking for work. She brought her interview clothes, and uses her computer to find a new job and file FEMA paperwork. Her filing system is more simple.
"This bed is my file platform," she said. "This is in the style of WC Fields. I know where everything is. It's probably just as well that other people don't."
With money from FEMA, the American Red Cross is helping Nova, and many other Katrina victims, find places to stay and ways to get back on their feet, a kindness Nova is eager to repay. "In Savannah and the Red Cross, I found refuge and that was such a comfort," she said.
Not only has Nova received help from the American Red Cross, she's also decided to give back to her new community by becoming a volunteer there. "I was so grateful for what had been given to me by the American Red Cross, that I said, the minute I find work here, I will become a volunteer here," she said.
Gerri McKinley, American Red Cross volunteer services director, told us, "There's no selfishness there. She's appreciative of what we've done for her. Now, she's on her feet and she's ready to give back to someone else. That's what it's all about."
"I felt immense gratitude to have ended up in Savannah," said Nova. "I would have never come to Savannah and it had many qualities very much like New Orleans. I could not imagine having a life anywhere but here."
Nova is hoping to find work in marketing or education, particularly in the field of art history. We'll let you know how she's doing.