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LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC-TV) – Five years ago, most of us watched the heartbreaking scenes from Hurricane Katrina play out on TV screens, but for others who lived in the disaster zone, it was all too real.
Shawn Herndon had just started classes at McNeese State University. Two weeks later his childhood home took a direct hit from Katrina. Herndon worried about his family.
"I didn't even know where they went. I knew my dad had gone to, I believe he went to New Iberia; my mom… I had no idea. I just knew that she had taken my brother," recalled Herndon.
As Herndon waited to hear from his family, officials in Southwest Louisiana were busy dealing with an influx of Katrina evacuees.
"Our population here in Southwest Louisiana probably grew by 25,000," said Dick Germillion with the Calcasieu Parish Office of Homeland Security.
Less than a month after Katrina came Rita, which gave Herndon an excuse to return home to New Orleans to see the damage done by Katrina
"The kitchen was completely rotted out, the ceiling had caved in," said Herndon. "It was pretty hard walking through there again because you just remembered all the times you've had over nineteen years being in one place."
"Did Hurricane Katrina prepare us for Hurricane Rita? I think the obvious answer is yes."
And not only did Southwest Louisiana make it through those tumultuous weeks, so did Herndon.
Now a producer here at KPLC, he's decided to make Lake Charles his permanent home.
"I've taken a lot of the lessons I've learned from Katrina and Rita and applied them to where I'm going to live and how I'm going to live," said Herndon.