Greg Voigt would like to go home, but he knows the place he loved no longer exists.

Most of the neighborhood restaurants, the eclectic characters, his friends -- even his home -- are now just gone.

Five years later, he can't shake the memory of New Orleans as it was in the weeks after Katrina set off a chain reaction that nearly destroyed one of America's unique cities. Even the photos remind him of the smell.

"It was incredible, it was a sewage smell," Voigt recalled last week. "There was a layer of gray grime over everything that the water touched."

And the water touched nearly everything after the levees broke.

Voigt is one of a handful of people who relocated to the Lowcountry in the wake of one of the deadliest hurricanes in history. They are lawyers, doctors, bartenders.

Some of them came here in the days after the storm, other migrated in the weeks afterward when it became clear that New Orleans would not be reopen for business anytime soon.

"Charleston seemed like a pretty good place to be after being in New Orleans after the storm," said attorney Lauren Williams, who moved here in 2005.

While Voigt and Williams came here on their own, others ended up here as part of rescue efforts. South Carolina was one of 27 states in which the Red Cross set up shelters for Katrina evacuees.

The charity provided 4.5 million refugees shelter, food and the financial means to get back home. Although many of them went home, others stayed, started new lives and consider themselves happy.

No matter how they got here, they share one thing: They mourn New Orleans like a lost relative.

Voigt and his wife, Kellye, lived in Gentilly, a neighborhood near Lake Pontchartrain, and their son, Gabriel, was about to start elementary school. Already that year, they had evacuated for two storms that came to little or nothing.

They initially thought they would avoid evacuation -- it looked like the storm would miss the city -- but decided 36 hours before landfall that they had to go. The Voigts rode out the storm in Arkansas, then retreated to stay with family in Texas.

As they watched CNN footage of flooded streets, looting and people trapped on roofs, they knew they would not be going back anytime soon. They considered enrolling Gabriel in a Texas school, then an old friend from Charleston called and offered them a place to stay on Sullivan's Island.

At first they thought they would just be here a short time. But that was before Voigt returned to the Spanish bungalow he called home. He remembers it was quiet -- no crickets, no birds, nothing. It was a completely dead place.

The water had been shoulder-height in the house, ruining almost everything he owned -- the record collection he started as a teenager, clothes, the new furniture he had just bought. A large X spray-painted on his house told him that rescue workers had found a dead body -- one of his neighbors, probably -- in his yard.

Even after taking a job as an assistant solicitor in the 9th Circuit office here, Voigt continued to work on repairing his house. He had a contractor, but it was slow going. The bureaucracy, the paperwork, dealing with things long distance took time.

Then cleanup crews demolished his house, taking away his last tie to the city. He has a lawsuit pending against the city.

The Voigts settled in Summerville, they now have a daughter named Eleanor, and they consider themselves lucky. Some people didn't have the opportunity to get out.

Williams came to Charleston in the months after the storm and soon ran into other New Orleans refugees, including Voigt. Williams remembers meeting a bartender in Avondale years ago who had escaped the city.

"It's an instant bond, having gone through that," Williams said.

Williams' experience was much like Voigt's. She lived in the lower Garden District, and evacuated to Baton Rouge for the storm -- it took 12 hours to cover 100 miles, something many Lowcountry residents can relate to.

She returned to find her neighborhood devastated by fallen trees. Her neighbors were missing, and the entire town was dead silent. It was scary, she said, not only because of the crime but because you couldn't tell how long it would take the city to come back.

Williams made her way to Charleston after her mother, who lives in North Carolina, mentioned that the state Supreme Court here was allowing Louisiana attorneys to come in and practice immediately.

Williams moved here and now has a firm, Williams & Walsh LLC, on James Island. She still gets back to New Orleans for Jazz Fest and other occasions, but she now considers Charleston her home.

"Part of me feels bad for not going back," Williams said. "It's hard to resist New Orleans when you love it. But I landed in a good spot. I'm a beach girl at heart."