LIFE AFTER KATRINA: The hurricane arrived at daybreak, Aug. 29, 2005, with 145 mph winds. The monumental devastation to the Gulf Coast forced many to leave and rebuild their lives.
Sunlight poured into the living room of James and Marie Poole's new Lexington home as the couple sat on a sofa surrounded by family photos, many of which were salvaged from their home in New Orleans five years ago.
"If you never experience anything in this life ...," Marie Poole began, but her husband, nodding, finished the sentence: "... it's not a life worth living," he said.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
The Pooles — including their son, James Millard Poole IV, now 15, and their daughter, Victoria Marie Poole, now 12 — fled to Kentucky after their home in New Orleans was heavily damaged by the Category 3 Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, which killed nearly 2,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands.
Nearly 600 hurricane victims had ventured to Louisville to stay with family or friends within a week after Katrina. Churches and social service organizations in Lexington helped many evacuees.
As of August 2006, more than 2,200 evacuee households were still in Kentucky, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and some, like the Pooles, decided to stay. The family watched as their house in eastern Fayette County was built, and they moved into the home this summer from a duplex near downtown Lexington.
Eve Guilbault came to the area after friends invited her. She moved to Lexington with her two sons, Taylor and Collin Cantanese. She initially worked as a catering sales manager for the Radisson hotel, but she now works for Creative Lodging Solutions in Lexington.
"I do miss home," Guilbault said. "I won't lie."
But she said her boys, ages 15 and 16, have settled and don't want to leave. Guilbault said she might consider moving back to New Orleans after they have graduated. Meanwhile, Guilbault said, she checked one item off her "bucket list" — attending a Kentucky Derby, where she watched Barbaro cross the finish line.
She said Lexington is a great place to raise a family, and the city is much safer than New Orleans. But Guilbault said she's not fond of the cold winters.
The Pooles, however, say they like living in an area where the seasons change, and they have made friends among those who supported them when they arrived with nothing.
Marie Poole works as an assistant dean of health services at the University of Kentucky, and James Poole is a facilities management specialist at Bluegrass Community and Technical College.
The children have adjusted well, their parents said, as evidenced by their incessant texting.
There were obstacles, the couple said. But the Pooles said they did not rest for a moment when it came to finding jobs and rebuilding their lives after Katrina.
"I believe that the Lord sometimes tests you just to see," Marie Poole said. "We have truly been blessed each and every step of the way."
Marie Poole said her family has always tried to give to those in need, and she's grateful for the support from their church and those who donated furniture.
She said she never envisioned standing in an empty lot in Lexington where she would soon have a home. Marie Poole created a special prayer room, where she keeps a Madonna that sat in front of the family's New Orleans home and withstood the storm, to give thanks.
"I say thank you every day," Marie Poole said.
She said the toughest part of the last five years was the reality of losing the house in New Orleans last year after the couple ventured south to explore the possibility of returning. The house had not been leveled, but it was not financially feasible for the Pooles to keep it.
Still, the family won't soon forget New Orleans. They travel there to visit family several times a year, and the Pooles are working to bring some of their old city — including jazz and Creole food — to the Bluegrass State.
Marie Poole plans to start a catering business, serving her gumbo, which has been praised by friends. And James Poole recently played his trumpet with a jazz ensemble at Talon Winery.
James Poole points out that the family's dining room chairs are reminiscent of New Orleans Saints jerseys, although Marie Poole says that wasn't done intentionally.
A portrait of New Orleans' French Quarter sits near the table, waiting to be hung.
"We've managed to meld into the community," James Poole said.
The couple credits the disaster with making them stronger.
"Our future is bright," Marie Poole said.