Katrina Evacuees Make Do in Washington, D.C.

Baby Kiara was born in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. Now she and her parents are living in an apartment in Maryland. The transition hasn't been easy for them. This evacuee family is one of hundreds that are now living in the Washington, D.C. area.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

After Hurricane Katrina, about 700 New Orleans families relocated to the Washington, DC, area. They include Kenny James(ph), his wife Dimitria Martin(ph) and their three-month-old daughter. They lived in shelters for a while. Now they're in their own Maryland apartment, but the transition has not been easy. NPR's Allison Keyes has the first of several stories on how the family is doing in its new home.

Ms. DIMITRIA MARTIN: Say, `Hello.'

(Soundbite of baby)

ALLISON KEYES reporting:

Dimitria Martin sits in the living room of her two-bedroom Mount Rainier apartment, cradling little Kiera(ph) on her lap. Both have short, curly hair and bright, inquisitive eyes. Looking around at the donated sleeper sofa, television, coffee table and dining room set, Martin says she's thankful that people here have been so willing to help her family.

Ms. MARTIN: I'm just grateful that I'm here in Maryland, because it's so different, you know, than it was in New Orleans. It's real nice out here.

Mr. KENNY JAMES: I never knew you could get so much help like this, you know. It made me want to go out there and start helping people.

KEYES: Kenny James is a compact, gentle-looking man with a quick smile. He says he and his wife would be glad to stay here, except that he misses their other children, all 10 of them. The oldest is 17. They're living with Martin's father in Vicksburg, Mississippi. The other problem, he says, is that the life they knew in New Orleans' Ninth Ward is totally gone.

Mr. JAMES: Oh, another environment, you know, and don't know nobody. It's different, you know. It's nice, but I really want to be with my kids, the rest of my kids. That kind of bothers me a lot, too, you know. But other than that, it's nice. I wouldn't mind making this home.

KEYES: Martin and James are already settling in here. Unlike many who lost everything in the storm, they were able to salvage a few reminders of home. Several pictures hang on the off-white walls of the ground-floor apartment.

Ms. MARTIN: That's my father and my uncle. This is the house--this is my house right here that I lost. This is my sister's son; that's my nephew. And this is my son who's going to Georgia Tech right here.

KEYES: The family has received a windfall of donations for their baby daughter. Martin is proud to show off Kiera's room.

Ms. MARTIN: Kiera has a Winnie the Pooh blanket that I hung up, and on this side of the room, she has a single twin bed. She has her own baby bed with her bottles and her blankets.

KEYES: The calm of Kiera's home now is a stark contrast to the storm during which she was born. Dimitria Martin gave birth to her 11th child at 12:01 AM August 29th, in the middle of Hurricane Katrina. The couple had fled their four-bedroom home for the AmeriHost Hotel on Canal Street.

Mr. JAMES: She went in labor and we tried to call paramedics, but none of them didn't make it on time or nothing like that. And then she laid on her side and she say, `It's coming.' And I saw something pushing out through her robe, and there was Kiera.

Ms. MARTIN: We had to do it by candle, so what we did was...

Mr. JAMES: I grabbed her and held her, and she pushed and I grabbed some scissors and I put them in some burning water and I put a little fire to them, and then I clipped the cord and I tied it up.

KEYES: Martin says her husband carried their newborn daughter outside to a local hospital to try and get formula and other medical attention. But officials with guns turned him away.

Ms. MARTIN: They did, like, a warning shot at Kenny while he had Kiera in his arms, telling him, `Get back! Get back! You all are not allowed in the hospital.' So he came running back all hysterical. He's a diabetic, so the cuts from the water--he was bleeding and everything.

KEYES: The couple ended up at the Convention Center. Martin says a family friend took her other 10 children to the Superdome, where their grandfather picked them up. Martin and James eventually boarded a bus and lived briefly at a camp for evacuees in Mena, Arkansas, before showing up at Washington, DC's, armory around September 10th. A non-profit group called A Wider Circle is paying for their housing along with 100 other families. The group also took Martin shopping for winter clothes. She got a black-hooded jacket, a lime-green hat and matching gloves.

(Soundbite of zipper)

Ms. MARTIN: All right, Beyonce, you-all watch out.

KEYES: But Kenny James continues to worry about his displaced children, especially his sons.

Mr. JAMES: And they're out there where they got gangs there, and I'm trying to--you know, by being long distance, I can't talk to them like I want every day. That kind of stresses me out, too, a lot, you know, 'cause I'm their dad. I'd say, `I know I'm not around, but, you know, I love you and I'm trying my best to get you on up here.'

KEYES: James says he and his wife are hoping to find a way to get a house in Maryland large enough to accommodate their other children, but the stress of the storm has affected his blood sugar levels. He is diabetic, and this has made it difficult for him to get a job.

Ms. MARTIN: Are you Mama's baby?

KEYES: Martin, a former waitress, is at home taking care of Kiera. James, a caterer who also has experience welding and soldering, is continuing to go on job interviews, but for the moment, they're looking forward to going to Mississippi for Thanksgiving and spending some time with their other children. Allison Keyes, NPR News, Washington.

INSKEEP: Tomorrow, we'll hear what this family and other evacuees are cooking for Thanksgiving.

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