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After Katrina, 'RHINO' wades in

When Katrina struck, the roof of Sara Warren's single story house came off and the house filled with two feet of water.

BY SIMON GRAF | NEW ORLEANS, La. | March 24, 2006

When Hurricane Katrina struck, the roof of Sara Warren's single story shotgun house came off and the house filled with two feet of water.

Workers from RHINO - which stands for "Rebuilding Hope in New Orleans" - helped Warren clean up the house and, in the first week of December, gutted the entire house, a necessary step to rebuild and continue on.

"They did a great job on my home," she said. "If I had not had RHINO, I would have to pay out $6,000 to $10,000 to get a crew to come over."

Months after the hurricane, many homeowners in New Orleans are desperate for crews to either clean up or gut their homes. And, like Warren, many have benefited from the efforts of RHINO, which is an outreach ministry of St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church in New Orleans and its partners.

"If they don't have RHINO, a lot of people would be on the (waiting) list to try to get their homes gutted," said Donald Jefferson, a sexton at the church who also lost his home from the hurricane.

The group has gutted 60 homes so far and there still are 175 to go on the waiting list, said coordinator Jill O'Neill.

"There are just so many homes - they need a lot more hands than there are homes to get the jobs done," O'Neill said. "The longer the houses sit the way they are, the less they are able to recover from it. The mold in the house just affects the walls and your chances to rebuild them."

The group receives heartfelt messages of thanks from families who they have been able to help.

"Rhino groups, words cannot express the gratitude for all the hard work that was done for us gutting our house on Lessups St.," one card on a church bulletin board reads. "When all hope was lost, God sent us a beautiful flock of angels - 'The Rhino group.' "

Each week, about 30 volunteers from all over the United States come to the New Orleans church to provide their services. Right now the crews are engaged in gutting homes, but by the summer, the group hopes to start rebuilding homes, with the help of Habitat for Humanity.

Warren is waiting for that time.

"I want to get on the list again to rebuild it," she said.

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St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church

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