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Five years ago, Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf region, killing nearly 2,000 and displacing more than 250,000 others from Louisiana to Florida. This week, in a series titled "Hurricane Katrina: Five Years After," FoxNews.com looks back on the costliest natural disaster ever to strike the United States.
Soon after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast area in August 2005, dozens of Hollywood stars immediately pledged support.
Julia Roberts, Jamie Foxx and John Travolta delivered food and medical supplies as part of an effort organized by Oprah Winfrey's foundation, Oprah's Angel Network. Sean Penn took a boat to join rescuers. New Orleans native Ellen DeGeneres dedicated an episode of her show to the devastation. George Clooney, Steven Spielberg and Jay-Z were just a few big names to donate big checks.
As the floodwaters receded, however, so did many of the stars. But several have contributed to continued efforts to help New Orleans and its residents.
Brad Pitt and his partner Angelina Jolie sunk some serious cash into the French Quarter by purchasing a mansion in the area, where they live part-time. Two years after the hurricane, Pitt founded the nonprofit housing group Make It Right to build 150 energy-efficient houses in the Lower Ninth Ward – the area hardest hit by Katrina. The actor’s commitment to the project is ongoing. According to a rep from the group, Make it Right has raised $31 million ($5 million of which Pitt donated from his own pocket), and with the enlistment of 21 architects, 50 houses have been re-built, with another 25 set to be completed this year.
We’re told Pitt also frequently visits the area, stopping by to chat with homeowners.
Singer Harry Connick Jr. still actively supports the housing village he conceived with New Orleans Habitat for Humanity for displaced musicians.More than 72 single-family homes and five elder-friendly duplexes have been completed.
Rod Stewart’s daughter Kimberly and comic Harry Shearer have been big supporters of the nonprofit relief group Common Ground Relief.
“Common Ground Relief would like to thank Harry Shearer and Kimberly Stewart for their support in 2010,” Thom Pepper, Operations Director at the nonprofit organization told Pop Tarts. “The effort to rebuild the most heavily devastated communities of New Orleans is ongoing . . . we continue to raise funds in order to house and feed construction-skilled volunteers who continue to come to help rebuild homes and work in our wetlands restoration program.”
But stars aren't just helping rebuild. They're also helping by bringing jobs -- and attention -- to the area.
Faith Hill headlined a free concert in New Orleans on Tuesday to show support for those still rebuilding.
Sandra Bullock premiered her hit film “The Blind Side” in New Orleans in 2009 to bring some money and attention to the city, and she also purchased a home in the Garden District.
Filming in the famed French Quarter and on the streets of “The Big Easy” has also ramped up. The HBO series "Treme," which is about a neighborhood rebuilding in the aftermath of Katrina, films on location in New Orleans. Spike Lee filmed two documentaries on the restoration, Sylvester Stallone boosted the economy by filming his hit “The Expendables” there, and Tim Robbins shot his scenes in the highly-anticipated “Green Lantern” in the heart of the city.
With all of this support, some wonder if celebrities, once the spotlight fades, tend to fade back into the woodwork.
Despite Pop Tarts' attempt to reach out to several other stars who played prominent roles in immediate relief efforts to see if they were still involved, very few responses were received. Several organizations involved in the relief effort also declined to comment on whether celebs who affirmed their continued assistance were still around.
“Celebrities are happy to pledge their support when there is publicity involved because publicity is a form of payment," said crisis management expert Glenn Selig, of The Publicity Agency. "Now, five years later, there is hardly any attention on New Orleans so there is no longer great publicity potential on the table. My guess is if a network agreed to broadcast a Katrina five-year anniversary benefit concert/show, a whole host of celebrities would be lining up to get involved.”
Veteran actress Christina Applegate agreed attention does fade, but says that does not mean that New Orleans has been forgotten.
“Social networking has helped us raise money for things like Katrina, Haiti and, hopefully, will help us raise money for Pakistan. We can help and keep it out there,” she said. “But it’s never going to go away. Hurricanes aren’t going to go away, cancer isn’t going to go away.”
Attorney Adam Dread, who led fundraising efforts for Katrina in his hometown of Nashville, Tenn., by hosting a large-scale music benefit, is simply thankful whenever Hollywood is able to lend a helping hand.
“Celebrities lending their name to a charity effort, regardless of how long, does bring that charity/disaster more attention, hence more money and more volunteers. Most of these folks never publicly stated that they were in it for the long haul, but they did help a lot.”
- Deidre Behar contributed to this report.