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East New Orleans' unshakeable history

The fishing villages that make up East New Orleans were almost entirely obliterated by Hurricane Katrina. But as NBC's Martin Savidge reports, that won't stop residents returning to the place they love.

We're in the city of New Orleans, but at its eastern edge — 30 miles from Bourbon Street.

Lake Catherine is a predominantly Catholic fishing community, and St. Nicholas Church was its anchor. We arrived to find them planning the priest's memorial service. For 25 years, Father Arthur Ginart listened to the sins of his faithful. He also baptized and buried them. He was, says his nephew Mike Ginart, “a regular guy who loved people.”

Father Red, as he was called, loved it here. And when Hurricane Katrina came, he wouldn't leave. His body has not been found.

“I don't think there's any doubt he's going to the house of his father,” Mike Ginart, “but this is still his house.”

East New Orleans makes up 67 percent of the land that is New Orleans, but only 20 percent of the population lives here, many of them in out-of-the way places that are mostly fishing camps. There are hundreds of them and almost all of them have been obliterated.

Fishing lured Vietnamese Americans to the area. But even though Village Del'este is in ruins, the residents are racing to return.

“When we came to America, we had nothing,” says resident Tuyen Nguyen. “We will rebuild.”

When Willis Wesley came back after the storm, the first thing he did was check on his wife, who'd been unable to leave. Rosie-Mary died three months before the storm. Wesley intends to stay with her.

“I can't leave,” he says, “because I buried her here. So I have to keep going.”

He was born here, after all — like 80 percent of the people who live in Louisiana. He's one of many coming back, drawn not just by their broken homes, but by an unshakeable history.