Hancock County Community Members Toss House Keys

Dozens of Hancock County residents say they made peace with losing their homes to Katrina by getting rid of house keys. The hurricane destroyed nearly every home in Jourdan River Estates and Bay Cove Estates. So on Tuesday, neighbors threw a "Toss your keys in the river" party. They said letting go of the past can be both heartbreaking and a relief.

The keys are useless. The doors they once unlocked, no longer exist.

"Our whole neighborhood was destroyed. We're all slab owners. These keys represent the past," Chuck Lefleur said.

A past the people of Jourdan River and Bay Cove Estates finally felt ready to let go of permanently.

"We decided that we're going to just toss the old keys and look forward to getting the new keys to our new homes once we start rebuilding," Melissa Ortego said.

"A little closure," said Pam Edwards. "A little happiness and starting over again."

Neighbors come together each week. They have formed a homeowners coalition to share information, and give each other support.

"There's a comfort in knowing that you're not alone in all you're trials and tribulations," said Libby Garcia. "We've had a lot of problems with some of the insurance companies. Some of them are good guys, and they're trying to do the right thing and some of them are holding out. We're concerned about our neighbors that are not being treated fairly."

After Katrina reduced 158 homes to pilings and slabs the community decided that one neighbor's problem would be everyone's concern. Residents say before the hurricane, families had lived here for decades as strangers. Now they've learned what it means to love their neighbors.

"We didn't really know each other." said Ortego. "Now since Katrina hit, we've been holding these meetings and we laugh together, we cry together and now we're going to start over together."

"It's been a great group," said Garcia. "We're still enjoying getting to know each other and it's made a happy spot in a very sad experience."

Neighbors say most of the people who lived in Jourdan River and Bay Cove Estates before the storm plan to return and rebuild.