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The Incredibly Painful Choice This Mother Made Before Hurricane Katrina (And What's Happened Since)

After some dark times, the future is "very bright" for Lynell McFarland and her family.

Warning: Video may be too graphic for some viewers.

In August of 2005, New Orleans resident and single mom Lynell McFarland had a difficult decision to make: evacuate in advance of Hurricane Katrina and lose her job, or stay behind and send her teen daughter out of the city without her.

“[My boss] explained to me that if I didn’t come into work that I would be fired,” Lynell told “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in 2006.

So, Lynell sent her daughter, Ariel, to Texas to stay with relatives. Despite Ariel’s pleas for Lynell to evacuate as well, Lynell remained in New Orleans to ride out the storm. The next day, flood waters surged, filling Lynell’s home. She escaped to higher ground ― a neighbor’s house ― but watched in horror as others were not as lucky.

“[I] saw bodies floating in the water,” Lynell recalled. “Dead dogs, dead cats, everything was floating in the water.”

Lynell waited helplessly as the flood raged on. When she was finally rescued, Lynell’s only focus was to get in touch with her daughter, but it took days before Lynell got word that Ariel, too, was safe. Mother and daughter were eventually reunited, but they lost everything they owned in the storm.

In an effort to help displaced families like Lynell’s in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Oprah’s Angel Network teamed up with Habitat for Humanity and built 65 homes in a community in Houston, Texas. They called it Angel Lane, and Lynell was one of the grateful recipients.

A decade after moving into her new home, Lynell and Ariel share an update on their life with “Oprah: Where Are They Now?”, describing the incredible feeling they had on that memorable move-in day. 

“It was the most exciting day of my life,” Lynell says. “To me, it was a dream come true. I always wanted to own a home.”

As a whole, Ariel, now 24, says that what she and her mother went through has strengthened their bond. “It has pulled us closer together,” Ariel says. “Probably better than it would be if we were still in New Orleans, due to the fact [that] we’ve been through a lot together.”

Lynell still lives in the Angel Lane home. Among other family photos, the hardworking mom displays a portrait of her and Ariel from the particularly difficult period after Hurricane Katrina and before they moved into their new house.

“It’s hard to not get emotional about it, because we know where we were. We had been through a lot,” Ariel says, wiping away tears. “The future is very bright.”

Another follow-up with a Katrina survivor:

PHOTO GALLERY
Forgotten Images Of Hurricane Katrina
CONVERSATIONS