The group slept in a park for a month, showered with hoses and used bushes as toilets. By day they put blue tarps on roofs for a FEMA subcontractor.
Among the new arrivals were four men from the town of Pasoamapa, in the Mexican state of Veracruz. More followed; there are now 25 Pasoamapa men in New Orleans and more on the way.
Brothers Juan, Amadeo and Hermenegildo Sanchez and their cousin Eloy Bendito were on their way to the United States when Katrina hit, and they headed for New Orleans.
"We really didn't know where it was," said Bendito, 29, who left his wife and two children in Pasoamapa. "We knew it had some kind of history, but we didn't know what it was. Whether it has history didn't interest me. What interested me was the money."
After the storm, hotels were the first to hire, preparing for the rush of aid workers coming in. The Sanchez brothers and Bendito found work gutting rooms at the Marriott Hotel and Holiday Inn. "We pulled everything out of there — rugs, curtains, televisions," Bendito said.
Next they found work "house leveling," lifting houses sunk in the marshy post-Katrina soil using hydraulic jacks and propping them on stilts, bricks or concrete supports.
At first they slept in a friend's apartment, but when it burned down, they moved to the Monte de los Olivos Lutheran Church in the suburb of Metairie, run by Jesus Gonzales, a Texas oil foreman turned pastor.
Few churches have opened their doors to the new immigrants, but Gonzales sees in them a chance for church growth. Monte de los Olivos has signs in Spanish welcoming Latino workers, Mexican film nights on Friday, a medical clinic on Saturday and soccer nets set up near the church.
Workers cook their dinners in large pots on the church's stove and sleep in curtained-off alcoves.
"Our focus is on the newcomer," Gonzales said. "We're focusing on the illegal Mexican who is coming to town, any Latino who's a laborer."
New Orleans was unprepared for the large numbers of Latinos moving in. Few New Orleans residents speak Spanish. Money-wiring businesses are scarce.
But during this year's Mardi Gras, Spanish could be heard throughout the French Quarter as immigrant workers wandered amid the throngs on Bourbon Street and gawked.
"I've never seen anything like it," said Mario Moreno, a 4-foot-10 construction worker from the Mexican state of Guerrero, as he stood outside a nearby market.
He found a job holding a sign advertising "ice cold beer" — $100 for 10 hours a night during the five days of Mardi Gras.
But the laborers have brought a single-minded focus on work that many residents say is foreign to the Big Easy. "We're here to work," said Juan Sanchez. "We're doing this to build our own houses in Mexico."
The new workers "don't care about traditions. They're not going to eat crawfish," said Azucena Diaz, a disc jockey for Radio Tropical Caliente, one of the area's two Spanish-language stations. "They don't care about anything else, just work, getting money and sending it to their families."
The Latino workers haven't always been welcomed.
Diaz, a Mexican-born U.S. citizen who moved here from Pomona five years ago, says she's seen Latinos, including her husband, insulted on the street.
"People are so angry with Hispanics coming," Diaz said. "They don't want any outsiders."
Police in Metairie have run off immigrants looking for day labor. The city balked at Jesus Gonzales' request to install showers for the men staying at his church. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently arrested 40 men at a popular gathering spot for day laborers. And workers report being stiffed by employers.
Some blacks see the thousands of Latino immigrants as usurpers who've come for jobs they once had, now that wages have risen and black workers are displaced.
"There are thousands of blacks that are still out of town who can't get back to town because there's no housing," said Elaine Smiley, an African American, as she oversaw the renovation of her home in the Gentilly neighborhood. "If we had enough of those blacks back here, they could do the work."
Smiley recently returned from Atlanta and hired a roofing contractor, whose workers turned out to be Mexican immigrants.
"I don't have anything against [Mexicans] being here," she said as five workers pounded shingles on her roof. "But I don't think they should be getting as much work as they're getting."
It's not clear how long the workers will stay in New Orleans.
Most left families behind. Rents are rising. Motels are packed with Latino workers sleeping six and eight to a room, and others have had to find shelter in warehouse offices.
The men from Pasoamapa say they will stay until there's no more work. Another 20 men from their town are on their way, they say.
"There's work for them as soon as they arrive," says Hermenegildo Sanchez. "We're not thinking of leaving."