Relocated Children Make Home in Houston

Children from New Orleans who survived Hurricane Katrina begin enrolling in schools across the South. Houston is making room for 4,000 students from kindergarten through high school. The young evacuees are still trying to cope with their harrowing journeys.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Children from New Orleans who survived Hurricane Katrina and the floods will begin enrolling in schools in Houston tomorrow. That school district is making room for 4,000 students from kindergarten through high school. As NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports, the young evacuees are still trying to cope with all they've been through.

(Soundbite of voices, crowd noise)

MANDALIT DEL BARCO reporting:

Among the jumble of hurricane survivors at the Houston Astrodome, children are getting by with donated clothes, toys and candy. They play tag, cards or jump rope around the crammed-together cots as their weary parents try to figure out what to do next. Takira Bennett(ph) and Deshan Prada(ph) have become friends with a few other kids here. The 11- and 12-year-olds share stories about how they survived.

TAKIRA BENNETT (Hurricane Survivor): And the water just did not want to stop running, so at first it was on the bottom step, and it got from the bottom step all the way to the top step.

DESHAN PRADA (Hurricane Survivor): It got so deep, all the way up to my neck, that every time I kept walking it got all the way up to here.

DEL BARCO: Up to your nose?

PRADA: Yup.

BENNETT: Then I had to walk on my tippy-toes 'cause it was so high.

PRADA: We had people riding around in boats with guns. A boat finally came and got us on the second day. We had to spend the night there; kept waving white flags and everything, and nobody had come.

DEL BARCO: Takira, Deshan and the other children say, as they waited for days and days to finally be rescued, they witnessed so much. They saw their neighbors looting stores and breaking in to ATMs. They saw young men setting the water on fire with gasoline.

PRADA: Saw it all from the bridge.

DEL BARCO: You must have been scared.

PRADA: Yup.

DEL BARCO: What were you thinking at that time?

PRADA: Will I make it out of there, because the helicopter wasn't coming back to get us.

DEL BARCO: Starting today, some of the children at the Astrodome will move to live on luxury cruise ships in Galveston or new homes in other states, but many will be staying in Houston, where school officials say they'll be integrated into middle and high schools and welcomed to two new elementary schools that had been closed down. But Felicia Bailey(ph) says it's hard to imagine her three children having a normal school life just yet.

Ms. FELICIA BAILEY (Mother): These children have saw dead bodies on the rooftops for days and weeks, and you want to throw them in the school? They need to get their mind right, get counseled, you know? They need to get their mind counseled. And my children have nightmares and stuff. And--but you want them to go to school. They don't have nothing to wear, no school supplies, no school money. What I'm gonna do? I'm not sending them.

DEL BARCO: Many of the children here at the Astrodome have been separated from their families. There are long lists of missing children and stranded children looking for their relatives. Fourteen-year-old Arnold LaFrance(ph) says he'll register for ninth grade after he locates the rest of his family.

ARNOLD LaFRANCE (Hurricane Survivor): I want to get in school, but at the same time I want my father and my grandmother back. And without them, I don't--you know, I don't know how would I be able to go to school and be able to think, because the whole time up in there I'd be thinking of where my family at, you know what I'm saying?

DEL BARCO: Back inside the Astrodome, Deshan Prada says he's excited to be starting the seventh grade in a new city, but he still remembers everything that is lost.

PRADA: For a 12-year-old person, where he grew up at, being from there, and starting a whole new life in a different state--it's hard to explain.

DEL BARCO: What do you think is gonna happen when you get to school? Are you gonna be telling stories about what happened?

PRADA: Yeah, everybody's gonna be shocked and amazed with what happened. They'll feel sorry for me, probably--make me part of Houston, Texas.

DEL BARCO: You're gonna be part of Houston, Texas, now.

PRADA: Yep.

DEL BARCO: Not New Orleans anymore.

PRADA: Nope.

DEL BARCO: Does that make you sad?

PRADA: Yeah, but I still got New Orleans in me.

DEL BARCO: Mandalit del Barco, NPR News, Houston, Texas.

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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