Watch CBS News

Home, Sweet Utah Home

For the first time in nearly a month, Hurricane Katrina evacuee Kathy Phipps and her family have a place to call home. And that place is in Utah.

Phipps, who lived in New Orleans, was separated from her children during the storm, and evacuated to Utah. She was reunited with them with the help of The Early Show.

And now, reports Hattie Kauffman, Phipps has a home and car of her own, and the warm welcome of her new neighbors.

Phipps signed a lease on a house that Kauffman say "means a lease on a new life."

She's moving in to a community that's embracing her with open arms. Her new neighbors applauded as she approached her new home, and many hugged her.

When Kauffman met Phipps, she was an evacuee surprised to find herself far, far from her old home.

"Utah!" she exclaimed at the time. "How in the world am I gonna find my kids in Utah?"

As Katrina was hitting, Phipps' children and their grandmother took shelter in her New Orleans workplace, and Phipps went home to get supplies, and the dog. But as the waters rose, she couldn't get back to them.

It wasn't until a week later, in Utah, that strangers were able to track down her kids, in a shelter in Texas.

An emotional Phipps said in a call to them, "Mama's right here. I'm safe. I'm alive. I'm not dead. I'm coming to get you!"

Learning of her story, The Early Show bought Phipps a ticket to Austin, Texas, where, on Sept. 7, she laid eyes on her children in an airport for the first time since Katrina, tightly embracing her 8-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son.

Phipps had made a huge decision, opting to take her kids with her to the state that had embraced her. The mountains of Utah are a long way from the bayous of Louisiana.

"(I went through) this hurricane and came to heaven," Phipps said, back in Utah.Heaven, observes Kauffman, is a four-bedroom house in a pristine cul-de-sac in the aptly named community of Pleasant Grove.

The whole neighborhood came through, supplying everything from furniture to little decorations.

"We got the list out," says Pleasant Grove resident Claire Willmore, "and within 24 hours, we had the garage pretty well full."

Fellow residents showed up, some holding a long banner saying, 'Welcome, y'all!"

"It's wonderful," Willmore says. "It's just a sense of really true welcome, and we really hope she feels at home," and that her kids do, too.

After losing everything she owned to Katrina, Phipps say sthis was like winning the lottery. She went from room to room, taking it all in, gasping, saying things like, "Oh, Jesus Lord," and, "Oh my God, this is beautiful."

Her new neighbors even stocked the cupboards. The kids each got their own bedroom.

She screamed, "Ohhh," holding her hand to her mouth, carrying the flowers she'd been given, when she spotted the washer and dryer.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will pay the $1,000 a month rent for a year. By then, it's expected that Phipps will have a job.

She'll be able to get around in a used car provided by a local dealer.

Again, Phipps screamed in ecstatic disbelief.

One neighbor after another hugged the new arrival, in her new home.

"This is a new beginning for me," Phipps proclaimed. …"This is what I've been dreaming of... for my kids."

Phipps went to the front steps and blew kisses as neighbors applauded.

Neighborhood residents are also helping seven other evacuee families resettle.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.