Like many in Waveland, Miss., Finegan lost her home on Aug. 28, 2005. Hurricane Katrina also claimed the antique furniture her family brought over when they emigrated from Ireland during the Potato Famine. Her mother's wedding ring. Her 1964 Plymouth Valiant.
Five years later, the nightmare that swept through her life, like the 28 feet of water that covered her home, is gone. Finegan once again has a place to call home, thanks to Lowe's and the Bay-Waveland Area Habitat for Humanity®.
Lowe's, a national partner with Habitat for Humanity since 2003, donated a Katrina Cottage and provided a $10,000 grant to prepare the home for Finegan. Built by Lowe's and displayed at the store in Waveland, the pink cottage was one of several designs Lowe's offered as affordable and expandable housing after Hurricane Katrina. Lowe's grant helped pay for a new foundation, deck and stairs, as well as the relocation of the house to Bayside Park, a welcome change of scenery for Finegan.
She lived in many places after Hurricane Katrina, but none she could call home. Finegan spent some nights camped out in a tent on a parking lot, others on friends' couches and the past three years in a cramped 1982 RV parked at a friend's house. Sharing the space with a dog and two "Katrina" cats, Finegan didn't have heat or hot water and barely had room for her clothes and a few personal items. She squeezed in stacks of original photographs where she could.
"After Katrina, taking pictures was a way of coping with everything," said Finegan, who captured the devastation of Katrina by peering into the windows of vacated homes and photographing the flood damage.
Now, her eyes light up when she talks about her new home and the day she moved in, a sweltering afternoon in June. "I was glad that I was alone," Finegan recalled. "I unlocked the door, got the animals in ... and burst into a flood of tears."
Then she did all the things she hadn't been able to do at home for five years. She cranked up the air conditioning until she "thought it was going to snow," took one of the longest showers of her life and "did laundry for days."
"I'm living a dream," she says now, calling her cottage "the cutest thing on Earth." She loves her porch, and, of course, the two bedrooms, full bath, kitchen and living room. Loves it so much she can't stop taking pictures.
She said she owes "a massive thank you to Lowe's" and plans to pay her good fortune forward by volunteering with Habitat. "For the last few months, I still pinch myself," Finegan said. "Yes, it's true. I have the key."
And finally, a place to hang her pictures.