Strangers Help Katrina Victims Rebuild

The White House issued a report Thursday, citing lessons the government learned from its failures after Hurricane Katrina and proposing big changes for handling future disasters.

But CBS News correspondent Byron Pitts reports that in some areas, Katrina's victims have all but given up waiting for federal help.

Pearlington, Miss., 30 miles northeast of New Orleans, was one of the poorest towns in the nation's poorest state long before Hurricane Katrina. Six months after the storm hit, there's still no running water, no schools, and only occasional mail service. There's even a coffin washed up in the middle of a street, and refrigerators are scattered in trees.

The federal government hasn't provided a lot off help, and residents say Pearlington would have died … if not for the store.

It's a store like no other in America — everything is free.

Locals call it "Pearl Mart," likening it to Wal-Mart. It's actually the old grade-school gym, turned clothing store and grocery store. It contains donations from around the country. And it's a place where neighbors can wash clothes, take a shower — and just talk.

Pearlington was once home to nearly 2,000 people. There are only about 600 left, and most of those are retirees. Some refuse to leave. Some can't. And nearly all of them feel abandoned by the federal government. They've been forced to rely on each other — and the kindness of strangers.

Ronnie McBrayer and Habitat for Humanity moved in weeks ago.

"It really breaks your heart," he says. "For some families, in some cases, this will be a bridge to get to permanent houses. For other families, it will be the house they live in for the rest of their lives."

A team from Pennsylvania is building a house for Lloyd and Gloria Dunaway. Lloyd has emphysema. He can't walk, and their FEMA trailer is too small for his wheelchair.

Lloyd can't speak, so their daughter Virginia speaks for him — and, in some sense, the whole town.

"It's more appreciation than I can ever express, to know that people care enough to come here and touch other people's lives, that they have no idea who they are," she says.

Jean Smith, a librarian back home in Pennsylvania, had no idea how to build a house before she arrived in Pearlington.

"I offered them hands," she says of what she brought with her. On Thursday afternoon, those hands finished the Dunaways' new home.