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I-Reporters share stories of Katrina destruction, rebuilding

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(CNN) -- Two years have passed since Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast in August 2005, and much of the region is still recovering from the damage done to homes and communities.

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Rhonda Richoux of Chalmette, Louisiana, sent a photo of herself wearing a hazard suit in January 2006.

CNN.com readers sent in I-Reports from Katrina and its aftermath that illustrate the severity of the storm and the resilience of the people who have willed themselves to rebuild.

Rhonda Richoux of Chalmette, Louisiana, lives in a Federal Emergency Management Agency trailer and doesn't see herself having the means to leave it anytime soon. Chalmette is an unincorporated community just east of New Orleans in St. Bernard Parish. Richoux sent CNN a photo of the rainbow design she painted on her trailer to distinguish it from the similar structures around it.

The trailer sits on the same property that housed her mobile home before the storm. After Hurricane Katrina, she went elsewhere to live while the property was prepared to house FEMA trailers.

During the storm, Richoux stayed at her sister's vacation home in Picayune, Mississippi, because she felt it was safer. After the storm, she stayed for a time in a state park in northern Louisiana. She also stayed in a tent in her old yard to help with rebuilding. With access to a generator, she could microwave instant soups and grits. Photo See I-Reporters' photos of the rebuilding process »

Richoux then moved into a family member's home until she and her fiancée could move into the FEMA trailer.

"To me it was like heaven when I finally got into it," she said.

Now Richoux, a schoolteacher, feels it's likely she will be stuck in the trailer because she can't afford to move anywhere else. Everything is more expensive, she says. She said many people are in need of a lot of help, but the rebuilding process is slowly proceeding. A few grocery stores and restaurants have appeared here and there. She used to see people living in tents, but hasn't seen such living arrangements in months.

"We know we're going to come back and rebuild," she said. "We're gonna do it. If we have to live in a tent, we're gonna do it."

Fellow I-Reporter Pam Watts of Biloxi, Mississippi, echoes Richoux's dedication to stay on the Gulf Coast despite the storm.

Watts grew up in New Orleans and moved to Biloxi in 1991. She said she's always had a sick feeling that a big storm would inflict major damage on the area. She moved away in 1999 and moved back in 2003, when she bought the same house she had left. An addition built onto the house protected Watts and her family from Katrina. The home was moderately damaged, but Watts says they were lucky.

"Storms don't scare me -- I've lived through many of them -- but this one scared me," she said.

She and her family were able to rebuild the home themselves. She said she found hope when she saw that one of her favorite old oak trees in the city had survived, and could be plainly seen after being hidden in the yard of a home that was destroyed in the storm. The old tree had already lived through decades of wear and tear.

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Watts says she misses some of the things she used to take for granted, like the local restaurants that no longer exist, but she's happy in Biloxi and has never really been away from the region.

"It's like we've gone back 200 years, but I love it here and I'm not moving, so help me God." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

All About Hurricane Katrina

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