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Dancing with the Stars

DWTS' Normani Kordei Shares Painful Memories from Surviving Hurricane Katrina: 'There Were Bodies Floating Around'

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Normani Kordei is sharing painful, yet pivotal, moments from her childhood that have shaped her into the brave survivor she is today.

“It’s actually something that I’ve never really talked about,” the Fifth Harmony member told PEOPLE backstage Monday night of opening up on Dancing with the Stars about her mother’s past breast cancer diagnosis and surviving Hurricane Katrina in 2005. “But anything my family goes through — whether it be my mom’s cancer or us getting through the hurricane, there’s nothing too great for us to deal with as a family.”

On Monday’s episode, the singer revealed her family’s hardships during a video package that played before her second dance of the night.

“When I was 5 years old, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. I remember my grandmother actually picking me up from school early. She said, ‘We have to go home. Mommy’s sick,’ ” Kordei, 20, said in a video package on week nine of the reality dancing competition series.

“Normani didn’t understand,” a family member chimed in. “Her mom went from having pretty, healthy, beautiful hair to being a bald head.”

According to Kordei’s mother, her daughter didn’t recognize her when she learned that she was ill.

“She was actually afraid of me. She was like, ‘Who is that? Is that mommy? What’s wrong with her?’ ” said Kordei’s mother. “And for days, I couldn’t even touch her.”

ABC

Reflecting back on the painful memory from her childhood, Kordei is grateful to her mother for her endurance and being a pillar of strength for their family.

“It was really hard to see her go through that,” said Kordei. “And she strayed strong, I know, for me and for my family.”

But just a few years later, a devastating disaster struck again.

“In 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit,” Kordei recalled. “It was like one thing after the other. We couldn’t really hit a break.”

“Our home sustained a lot of wind damage. My mother’s home was destroyed and Normani she was like, ‘Mommy, will we ever be able to come home? I was like, ‘No,’ ” Kordei’s mother said.

The singer also remembered being evacuated from her home as a result of the natural disaster, and witnessing death firsthand.

“The whole city was evacuated. Everybody was leaving,” said Kordei. “I mean, there were bodies floating around. It was like my childhood, everything that I knew, all my memories, gone.”

ABC

Although the memories from her past are heart-wrenching, Kordei is grateful for her family and friends for being constant cheerleaders in her life.

“I’ve definitely had to overcome a lot and my family’s literally been there for me through absolutely anything. If it wasn’t for my family, I would never in a million years have built the courage to audition for X Factor,” said Kordei, who added, “and I don’t know if I’d be who I am today.”

“I get all of my strength from my family, my friends,” said Kordei. “I want to dedicate this performance to all my loved ones. This is for you.”

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Next week, audiences will see Kordei and pro partner Val Chmerkovskiy — who both earned a 36/40 for their Viennese Waltz and a 40/40 for their jazz — compete in the finals against Rashad Jennings (with partner Emma Slater) and David Ross (with partner Lindsay Arnold).

Dancing with the Stars airs Mondays (8 p.m. ET) on ABC.