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Katrina survivors build new life in Central Texas

Thousands of people displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 came to Texas. Some built a new life here.

MARBLE FALLS, Texas -- After Hurricane Katrina slammed the gulf coast in August 2005, thousands of people who fled New Orleans came to the Austin Convention Center, the Delco Center and the Tony Burger Center, and Central Texans opened their hearts to help.

Many of those evacuees didn't return to Louisiana and decided to make new lives in Texas. Some of those people who evacuated decided not to look back, including a tight-knit church group that now calls Marble Falls home and tells KVUE they wouldn't have it any other way.

"It was not planned by us. I believe we were led by God because we had this ministry in New Orleans we set up in 1996 called Smoking for Jesus Ministry and Katrina came," said Pastor Willie Monnet, Sr.

It's a drastic change from city life in a poverty stricken neighborhood for Monnet. He now preaches in a much different setting: The Texas Hill Country.

"I believe that God allowed Katrina to move us," he said.

Ten years ago, Monnet, his wife Claudette and dozens of church members set off for Texas in bumper-to-bumper traffic. They only packed three days' worth of clothes.

"We thought ‘It will only be three days and we'll be right back and clean up, pick up and start all over again.'"

Katrina was just the beginning. A few weeks later, Hurricane Rita ripped through Texas. Those three days turned into 40, living in hotels and retreat centers. In search of higher ground this church family landed in Marble Falls.

"I love the fact that it's country living. I like to drive past the cows and the horses and stuff. I like the serenity, the simplicity of where we live. I won't trade that for anything. Nothing," said church member Viola Chapman.

Chapman kept a journal through it all.

"There are passages in my journal where the community came together and brought us clothing and food and bedding," she recalled.

She wrote about faith, family and the chance for a better life.

"The crime rate is low, I'm not afraid here. I can move about without being fearful," Chapman said.

"The children were actually able to live a more free-er, peaceful life," said Claudette Monnet.

As a thank you to their new neighbors, church members served up New Orleans' finest Cajun dishes.

"It was called Hill Country New Orleans Style. We served all our food that we had. The gumbo, the fried chicken, the jambalaya, crawfish etoufee, and what happened? The people came and said 'Y'all need to open up a restaurant," she said.

Adding some spice and flavor to the Hill Country, The Real New Orleans Style Restaurant opened and is thriving along FM 1431 in Marble Falls.

"All we have to do is now look back 10 years and see where we are now," Pastor Monnet said.

They look back on memories washed away in the storm. They remember the people they've lost, but Pastor Monnet said they've never once considered returning.

"I bought a cowboy hat and some boots. So we are Texan," he said. "Everything turned out just right."

"We were good in Louisiana but when we came to Texas, God just made it better," Chapman said.

Through faith and fellowship they made it. This church now considers Katrina a blessing.

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