He Rebuilt 400 Homes in Mississippi

updated 10/22/2007 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/22/2007 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Larry Randall, 52
Director, Pearlington Recovery Center

A TOWN WIPED OUT: Larry Randall didn't ask to be the general contractor for Pearlington, Miss. But when, in August 2005, Hurricane Katrina wrecked his hometown (pop.: 1,700) and Pearlington was lacking leadership—the Gulf Coast community has neither mayor nor city council—the retired tugboat captain stepped up. "To see everything torn apart and upside down—there's not a grown man who didn't shed a tear," Randall says. "But this is my home."

MAN WITH A PLAN: In November 2005 Randall and pal Herb Ritchie founded the Pearlington Recovery Center (www.pearlington.info). Working 14-hour days out of an abandoned school with a crew of 12, Randall recruited several thousand volunteers from around the country to come to Pearlington to pour cement, hang drywall and paint. "Larry talked to anyone who would listen to get resources," says Mike Womack, director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. From securing building permits to checking screw sizes, Randall ran the reconstruction of 400 homes—at times driving nails himself, against doctor's orders. (After a 2004 heart attack, he wears a pacemaker.)

A FRESH START: Edgar Huse, 58, was living in a FEMA trailer last February when one of Randall's crews drove up. "They said, 'We'll build you a house,'" says Huse, who moved in three months ago. "It touches your heart." As for Randall (who lived with wife Beth in a FEMA camper trailer for a year), he's busy trying to get 200 more houses done even as he comes home to an uncompleted plumbing project. "My wife keeps telling me to finish our house," he says.

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