Evacuees Search for Missing Family
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
Texas is housing about 250,000 victims of Hurricane Katrina, and many of them are in large arenas like Houston's Astrodome. The massive shelter there is managed by Harris County, where spokesman Paul Bettencourt expects evacuees to soon tire of their surroundings, even though they're now safe, clean and fed.
Mr. PAUL BETTENCOURT (Spokesman): In a few weeks, you know, people do begin to get frustrated in effectively what is the largest tent in the nation, the Astrodome, and you know, eventually over time, people will want to get on with their life. And what we are trying to do is already forecast to get that cranked up as fast as possible. We are the single largest shelter ever in the history of the United States.
MONTAGNE: Texas Governor Rick Perry wants the FEMA to move some of the Houston evacuees onto the cruise ships that are being chartered by the government. He's also directed emergency workers to begin airlifting Katrina's survivors to other states, saying shelters in Texas are near capacity. Some evacuees are focused on something even more basic than shelter: finding their parents or children. That's what NPR's Howard Berkes discovered at the Astrodome complex in Houston.
HOWARD BERKES reporting:
Last night on the sidewalk outside the Astrodome, a minister and two women stood in a circle, eyes shut and hands clasped.
Unidentified Man #1: ...in the name of Jesus, Father, all of the people that they can't find, find them for them, Lord Jesus. Help them to arrive safe and sound...
Unidentified Man #2: Claudicio Lewis(ph), please report to Section 263; Claudicio Lewis, Section 263.
BERKES: And sometimes the announcements inside the Astrodome are for people searching for the missing or people being sought. At one end of the vast hall, beyond a sea of cots and people, a message wall carries hand-scrawled pleas: `We're looking for Shaunice(ph).' `Rita Burbank(ph), your children are here.' Next door in the Reliant Center, another cavernous shelter, there's an effort to find missing children and missing parents, more than 200 reported so far.
Mr. CHARLES MASINO (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children): Most of the people that report their children missing don't even have photographs because it was all lost in their flood that they had at a particular home. Some of the children we have are so young, they don't even know their name, so how do we even start to find out who their parents are? So it's--and the volume of it, of course, makes it a lot more difficult than it could ever be.
BERKES: Charles Masino is with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which is trying to reunite families.
Mr. MASINO: Some seen at their grandparents' house in Louisiana and the parents is here but can't get ahold of them because the flood had washed out that house or the children picked up and brought to another shelter in a different state.
Unidentified Woman: Yeah.
Mr. MASINO: Some are--where they're just actually--the mother was picked up off a roof and she was dropped here, and then they went back to pick up the children and the helicopter took them here, and they all went different ways. Yeah. And there's no communication that we're establishing. Parents are coming to us right now and saying, `I haven't seen my child in three days. I have no idea where they're at.'
BERKES: Thirty-five children were reunited with their parents in just the past few days. Just yesterday, Tori McKenzie(ph) of New Orleans added a new ending to her story about losing six children when her family was rescued.
Ms. TORI McKENZIE (Hurricane Victim): Wednesday morning, my kids got separated from me. My boyfriend and my neighbors over me, we got a rescue boat. They took all our children, brought them to the 610 Bridge. They come back to get us. By the time we got to the 610 Bridge, our kids was gone. They were gone. We haven't seen them since Wednesday morning, and today we just got word from these nice people that they found our kids.
BERKES: The kids were in Corpus Christi, where a social worker with Child Protective Services learned McKenzie might be in Houston. He thought of an old friend here, high school principal Joe Arlinghaus(ph).
Mr. JOE ARLINGHAUS (Principal): So Child Protective Services--a buddy of mine works there. He called me in Houston and said, `Go to the Astrodome and find them.' And so there have been a hundred people here paging her and looking, and finally, we found her and we're going to get her reunited with her kids.
BERKES: But for every happy reunion story here, there are five with no resolution yet. There are parents like Larry Moore, who hunches over forms at the lost kids desk.
Mr. LARRY MOORE (Hurricane Victim): Well, I was in--the house had flooded; water was about 30 feet high. Total disaster, lost everything. I saved four families, plus mine. But they splitted us up. Now I found my wife. She's in Austin, Texas, somewhere. Now I'm trying to find the five kids that I lost.
BERKES: Moore's eyes are glassy, his face drawn, as he tries to explain his despair.
Mr. MOORE: It's hard. I'm hurting, brother. Every day, I can't sleep, stomach bad, nerves bad. I've been up about a week, I ain't slept yet. I've been up, trying to find my kids, walking, trying to find my kids, learn my way around a little bit, trying to find them. I'm missing my family. That's all I can say.
BERKES: And with that, Moore turns back to the forms, listing five names. Howard Berkes, NPR News, Houston.