Surprising Benefactor for Hurricane-Ravaged Town

Neil Diamond stepped in to help people who lost their homes in Hurricane Ike.
CBS
It was moving day recently for dozens of families in Oak Island, Texas. Their new homes are gifts from a stranger.

In September of 2008, Hurricane Ike splintered Oak Island - ruining 345 out of 350 homes.

Esther Nelson slept in her car or a tent for months. "I thought I'd never be able to overcome this," she said.

CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann reports dozens of families were left high, dry and homeless. They desperately needed help from someone.

A church circle prayed in the ruins for a miracle. A stranger joined them. He never said a word - he just listened.

"No one knew who it was until it was over," Nelson said.

The stranger was music star Neil Diamond.

"If I knew it was him, I would have hugged him, and told him to sing 'Sweet Caroline,'" Nelson said.

Diamond had a concert in nearby Houston right after the hurricane -- and wanted to see Ike's devastation.

"You couldn't help but be moved by this terrible situation," Diamond said. "I just decided that I would do whatever I could do to help."

He donated profits from his concert merchandise, raised $1.7 million and re-built a dozen homes on Oak Island.

"The payoff is beautiful," he told CBS News. "The people are in their homes, they are sheltered from the storm."

Esther Nelson says her Neil Diamond home is a gem.

Steve Shiver, who slept on a tugboat for months with his family said, "through prayer and belief and a gentleman named Neil Diamond - we have a home."

"I'm so grateful that I was one of the recipients," Nelson said.

Diamond said he's "going to quietly go back and say hi to those people. And maybe get invited for dinner and have a good old time."

On Oak Island, the good times never seemed so good.

  • Mark Strassmann

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