By Beth Germano, WBZ-TVBy Beth Germano

BOSTON (CBS) – Ten years ago the world was watching Hurricane Katrina slamming into the Gulf Coast. It forced thousands from their homes, and many relocated including Vanessa Johnson who reluctantly left her home in Slidell, Louisiana and settled in Boston where she had relatives.

“The last thing I remember hearing on the radio was ‘God bless Slidell,’” said Johnson. “The trees and stuff began to fall, and then a strong wind came like a freight train and that was the beginning.”

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Her home took a direct hit from those trees, and then came the water which rose as high as six feet inside. The aftermath was catastrophic with the indelible images of the devastation. There was water at doorsteps, residents climbing to their rooftops to escape, and Vanessa Johnson walked an hour in it, desperate to find her mother.

“They had snakes in the water, alligators in the water, everything in the water,” she said. “It was up to my neck and I prayed all the way.”

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She lost everything with her possessions scattered in Katrina’s path, the storm surge devastating the area. She remembers waiting in lines for food and cleaning supplies, and the long wait for help.

“Not until the Red Cross came in a week and a half later,” she said. “If you didn’t have food you didn’t eat.”

After rebuilding her life in Massachusetts it’s taken ten years for Vanessa Johnson to talk about her experience.

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“I am not a refugee, I am a survivor,” she says. “I’ve survived being there and I survived staying there.”

Beth Germano