Faith groups are joining survivors in marking the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, considered the costliest natural disaster in the history of the United States.

The hurricane, which struck the U.S. coast on Aug. 29, 2005, caused nearly $100 million in damage and killed 1,836 persons. It destroyed large sections of the city of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region of several states. It also prompted wide condemnation of the initial response by the U.S. government, which critics said was shockingly inadequate.

Much work remains to be done in New Orleans, survivors of the disaster said, though they have seen progress and they are thankful for what has been accomplished.

“The city is nowhere where it should be five years later,” said Gloria Mouton, 62, a retired government employee who had to relocate to Georgia before returning to New Orleans two years later. It was not until 2009 that she was finally able to return to her home thanks to repairs done by volunteer groups.

“I will never forget what has happened, never,” she said of the work done by volunteers.

Like others, Mouton said she said learned the value of family and the transitory nature of much of life. “Material things don’t mean a thing,” she told ENInews.

Many survivors credit the humanitarian response of church-based groups and others for saving lives and providing a sense of hope for those who survived the disaster.

“I could never pay back for what people did for me,” Christopher Weaver, 48, a self-employed New Orleans cook whose home was repaired by church-based volunteer teams, said in an interview with ENInews. “Today I see things totally differently.”

The experiences of lives changed and of lives lost was at the center of commemorations held over the Aug. 28-29 weekend..

“Our land experienced the worst natural disaster it has ever faced,” the Rev. Kevin Massey, director of Lutheran Disaster Response, told the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America News Service. “Hurricane Katrina devastated numerous states and affected millions of people.”

He said, “As we move to the next five years, where we hope and pray for more signs of recovery, we still mourn for what happened but also remember with great appreciation the service and witness that followed.”