In the neighborhood of Lakeview, all of the nearly 10,000 residents are gone. Everyone, that is, except Darren Schmolke.
He lives in an immaculate, four-bedroom house with a swimming pool out back — the first home rebuilt in the neighborhood. It took him two months and a week to completely gut everything.
“We took out all the kitchen cabinets, doors, trim, all the Sheetrock,” he says.
Schmolke builds houses for a living. But why build here, again, and make it even better than before?
“My wife and I built this house three years ago,” Schmolke says.
And Katrina destroyed their dream.
Schmolke’s wife, Tara, died in a car accident while the family was evacuated and living in Florida.
Schmolke’s mother-in-law, Yolande Burst, remembers them as a couple.
“They had an awesome relationship,” she says. “They were truly soulmates, the loves of each other’s lives.”
For Schmolke, rebuilding their home helped rebuild his life.
“I figured my wife was my cheerleader when she was here, and that shouldn't change, so we did it,” he says.
He’s also inspired by his son, Luke. At almost two years old, his dad wants him to grow up in the family neighborhood.
“He's doing great, he's happy, he's good,” says Schmolke. “We're coming along, him and I. We got a little different relationship than we did before, but we're coming along.”
Schmolke's in-laws help with Luke, while Dad carries out his mission.
“I'm gonna tear that house down and put something very nice on top of it,” Schmolke explains as he walks past a gutted house.
He's determined to help rebuild the entire neighborhood. He has nearly two dozen projects under way. People often stop by for inspiration and to say, “Thank you.”
Schmolke hopes to set an example.
“My situation is a little tougher than everybody else's, ’cause I didn't just lose my house,” Schmolke says. “If we can pick up the pieces and keep moving on, I think everybody can do that, too.”
He firmly believes his neighbors will return.
“Come back in two or three months,” he predicts.
For now though, he plays with his son in the driveway of a home that sits pretty much alone.