Hurricane Katrina's youngest victims still healing a decade later

NEW ORLEANS -- This coming weekend is the 10th anniversary of one of the country's worst natural disasters.

Hurricane Katrina left more than 1,000 dead and much of New Orleans under water. Reconstruction would take years. Hundreds of thousands fled the devastated city.

Many who have returned still face the lingering effects of their experience, especially the youngest survivors.

When the levees broke, the Superdome became housing of last resort -- a life-and-death struggle for stranded residents, including thousands of children like Danielle Mollett.

"I was just like, I have to put my fears aside and try and see what I could do to get my grandma out of this situation," she said.

Danielle Mollett. CBS News

Danielle, then 11 years old, was trapped in the attic of her house with her 64-year-old grandmother, Diane Mollett. After two days and nights without food, her grandmother's health started to fail.

They were rescued by boat and taken through a maze of human suffering and death to the Superdome.

"I went to go tap her, like 'Grandma, come on get up so we could get dressed,'" said Danielle.

On their second night, her grandmother died on her cot.

"That was my first time dealing with somebody close dying in front of me," said Danielle.

She was 11 years old and surrounded by strangers.

"I just kept myself balled up," said Danielle.

Danielle spent two more days, alone, in the Superdome before being bussed to relatives in Texas.

Jamichael Lewis was 14 years old when Katrina hit. The storm ripped the roof off his family's home. They ended up in a FEMA trailer 100 miles away.

He missed two years of school.

"That was a major setback for me because I felt like I wasn't making any progress," he said. "I was just in the world, lost."

Sociologist Lori Peek has written a book called, "Children of Katrina." She says more than one-third of Louisiana's kids experienced clinical depression and anxiety after the storm.

All that mattered: Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast

"Suffering through a devastating disaster, being dislocated, and then having this accumulation of harms can then translate into a lot of negative outcomes for children," she explained.

Danielle and Jamichael both returned to New Orleans. They are getting help from Covenant House, a community outreach organization.

"To say I was a child going through that situation. It just made me a stronger person. It made me a better person," said Danielle.

Danielle is now a single mother of three, working as a hotel maid. Jamichael is training to be a graphic artist. They say they both are past Katrina, but they will never get over it.

  • Mark Strassmann
    Mark Strassmann

    Mark Strassmann has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2001 and is based in the Atlanta bureau.