As he stepped off a FEMA sponsored plane which transported him from hurricane ruins to humanitarian recovery, lifelong New Orleans resident Darryl Morrison couldn't believe his eyes.
"I feel wonderful and blessed that I can come somewhere almost to a foreign land, to the feel the warmth and love that you all have shown me in Rockford," Morrison said.
Morrison - and 51 New Orleans evacuees displaced by Hurricane Katrina - were met with a hurricane of love at the Greater Rockford Airport. Red Cross, the Salvation Army and area leaders greeted the city's newest temporary residents, ending weeks of unimaginable struggle, and heartache.
"We were sacrificing ourselves and wading through the water, but I believe risking your life to save another was worth it," Morrison said.
However, other tired evacuees, many with only a week's worth of clothes as their lone possession, vented their frustrations on a city's failed infrastructure, and failed planning before Katrina made landfall.
"When you just use wood and sticks, it's going to come down. Build it solid, that's what I would do," evacuee Rodney Herston said.
Other evacuees defended staying put through literally hell and high water.
"They've come close and they veered off in one direction or the other, and nobody really wanted to believe we could have 20 feet of water in downtown New Orleans. But when the levee breaks, you've got nowhere to go," evacuee Jon Knouse said.
But now, these evacuees do have a place to go; a place to recover, to refresh, and to rejuvenate, a city which for some could soon be their new home, and a new chapter.
"I'm not adverse to rebuilding a new life somewhere, but I need to go back to retrieve the rest of my stuff. I just brought what I could carry," Knouse said.
An uncertain future for dozens of New Orleans residents, met with the Forest City's undeniable open arms.