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Families fix up home, give hope to evacuee

An overwhelmed Kathy Phipps sits in a 2002 Pontiac Sunfire donated to the New Orleans evacuee by Low Book Sales of Lindon.
An overwhelmed Kathy Phipps sits in a 2002 Pontiac Sunfire donated to the New Orleans evacuee by Low Book Sales of Lindon.
Michael Brandy, Deseret Morning News

PLEASANT GROVE — Hurricane Katrina blew many families apart — but the forces of love and caring pulled one of them back together.

Families along and near 1500 North in this Utah Valley city worked together to furnish a house so a New Orleans family now living at Camp Williams could move in.

That's not all. One neighbor arranged for Low Book Sales of Lindon to donate a car to the family. And another neighbor is arranging for employment.

Landlord David Radmall turned over the keys to the split-entry house to Kathy Phipps and her family on Monday after neighbors donated furniture, bedding and even bicycles for two of her children, Mickal, 8 and Michael, 11.

Phipps' husband will accompany her adult son to Utah.

FEMA will take care of the rent for a year, Radmall said.

Neighbors even stocked the refrigerator and pantry and had a pot roast cooking in the kitchen when Phipps stepped into the freshly painted house amid the cheers of at least 100 neighbors who had gathered to witness the event.

She shook with gratitude.

It was more than Phipps expected, she said, and more than she had in the Big Easy before the aftermath of Katrina destroyed her home and life.

"It's a miracle," she said. "I'm so used to doing I didn't know how to receive."

Phipps arrived in Utah aboard one of the military transport planes that ferried hundreds of displaced folks out of New Orleans. She thought she was going to San Antonio, Texas, and didn't know she was headed to Utah until she stepped off the plane. She was upset, she said, because she had been separated from her husband and children. A relative had evacuated to Texas earlier with the children.

Barbara Williams, who had gone to Camp Williams to assist the evacuees, attempted to console Phipps, then took on the challenge of finding Phipps' family. Through Phipps' cousin in North Carolina Williams was able to locate the family in a shelter in Austin, Texas. CBS News paid the round-trip airfare for Phipps to fly to Texas and retrieve them.

Williams lives in the neighborhood that is now home to the Phipps family. She contacted another neighbor, Claire Willmore, who in turn arranged for the house and organized the donation drive.

At first, Willmore thought that perhaps the neighbors could put together some basics, she said. But the response was overwhelming.

In American Fork, another group of neighbors set up a home for the family of Phipps' sister and the sister's soon-to-be husband.