In an empty house in the St Bernard Parish suburb of New Orleans, Fran Sayer is plastering the ceiling and holding back the tears.
The owner of a cleaning business, she has just arrived from California to help out with the St Bernard Project, one of the many volunteer groups which are playing a central role in efforts to re-build the city.
She knew that help was needed, but, two years after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, nothing she had seen or read had prepared her for the sight of row upon row of streets where the majority of houses have been levelled or abandoned.
“This looks like a war zone,” she says. “I can’t believe it. This shouldn’t be happening here. It makes me ashamed to be American.”
The reaction to Hurricane Katrina showed the United States at its worst and at its best.
The failure of federal, state and local authorities to react to the unfolding disaster remains, to this day, a blot on the country’s conscience.
But the flip side to that were the many kind acts of strangers, the willingness of individuals to open their houses to people, sometimes groups of people, whom they had never met before.
If official America failed, private America rose to the challenge. And two years on, the work of groups such as the St Bernard Project is a natural extension of that “can-do” spirit.
Their volunteers come for periods ranging from a few days to a few months.
Some are students, others are working people who have given up their jobs to help because of their strong feelings about what was – or was not – happening in one of America’s great cities.
No-one in authority has really helped me. Just these kids here
St Bernard resident
In their small office in a side street, a wall chart records the growing numbers of homeowners who have been helped by the St Bernard Project.
The volunteers use affordable materials in their reconstruction work and they work independently of the authorities. This is DIY recovery.
Seventy-seven-year-old Red Falls is among those who are doing it for themselves.
Thanks to the volunteers from the St Bernard Project, he recently moved back into his house after spending 16 months living in a trailer with his dog, Missy.
The pay-out from his insurance company was modest and the federal “Road Home” money he has been promised is stuck somewhere in a bureaucratic limbo.
But Red, a retired steelworker, was determined to stay in his house and has nothing but praise for the young volunteers who made it possible by helping him re-plaster its walls.
“They had a bunch of kids never knew nothing and they trained them on the job,” he says. “No-one in authority has really helped me. Just these kids here.”
‘In God’s hands’
Not everyone is as lucky as Red. Five minutes down the road, Kerry Smith and his girlfriend Ashley are living in a government-run trailer park.
They are both holding down jobs but spend their lunch breaks coming back to their small, cramped mobile home, just to check that their few items of worth have not been stolen by thieves to be sold for drugs.
A boarded house in New Orleans
Rebuilding has floundered because of cost
Kerry reflects: “It’s miserable here, but at least I have a roof over my head. It’s in God’s hands – they could shut this place down whenever they want.”
Ashley cuts in: “I remember when I was a kid. My father used to tell me stories about past storms. I never thought that I would be going through this or living in a trailer that hooks on the back of a car.”
So what of the authorities? On a local level, members of St Bernard’s council say they are struggling and that they cannot get their hands on the federal funds that they need.
In one example of the challenges they face, the local sewerage system is still not functioning.
Waste does not flow through pipes but has to be ferried in tankers, at vast expense.
“When I was on the roof on Monday, 30 August  looking at my parish and seeing 22 to 25 feet of water, I thought the recovery would take three to five years,” council chairman Joey Difatta tells me.
“We’re two years in and we’re not even scratching the surface.”
Louisiana’s Democratic Governor Kathleen Blanco says she is doing all she can to extract federal funds and has called on the people of her state to be patient.
There was far more devastation than we originally estimated
“We are a people seeking instant gratitude, so the people of Louisiana want their road to be straightened right away,” she said.
“And this large, large devastation is going to take some years to come. There was far more devastation than we originally estimated, so we’re trying to reconcile these differences in numbers.”
But the numbers of those returning to St Bernard Parish are low.
It is estimated that only a third of those who lived there before Hurricane Katrina have returned.
For many of the elderly residents, in particular, the psychological effect of seeing their destroyed property is proving too much.
With every month that goes by, it becomes less likely that they will return, less likely that St Bernard will ever again resemble the community it once was, despite the best efforts of the volunteers. BBC