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Some hurricane evacuees along the Gulf Coast are moving out of shelters today, especially those living in school buildings. Those buildings are needed for the start of school, which is a huge step towards normalcy for children. But moving makes some evacuees anxious, as NPR's Howard Berkes discovered in Gulfport, Mississippi.

HOWARD BERKES reporting:

Hurricane Katrina brought more than 200 strangers together at Orange Grove Elementary School, a squat, brick building in Gulfport. Among them is Bill Lykins(ph), an installer of custom cabinets and closets.

Mr. BILL LYKINS (Carpenter): Most of us lost everything we've ever--but material things can be replaced. And one thing this thing has brought to us is these people in this room right now--we're family. You know, it's not friendship, it's family. And that means a lot. I mean, I've made people--I may never see the people after we leave these shelters again, but they're going to be in my family till I take my last breath on Earth.

BERKES: This is a common theme for the two dozen people who first arrived. They organized the shelter, rationing food and water. They salvaged water from swimming pools and used it to flush toilets. They rigged makeshift showers. And they comforted each other in the darkness and the heat without phones or news, safe but anxious. Jo Cruz(ph) had just moved here from New Orleans.

Ms. JO CRUZ (Hurricane Evacuee): I have no place to go. I can't go back to New Orleans because my family home is gone. I can't go back to my home here because there is no home. I was turned away at four shelters before these people took me in. I was scared, I was crying, and I'm by myself. There was no place else for me to go.

BERKES: Forty people arrived after rescues. Eighteen were Hondurans, including Jose Francisco Andina(ph). Jo Cruz interprets.

Mr. JOSE FRANCISCO ANDINA (Hurricane Evacuee): (Spanish spoken)

Ms. CRUZ: They arrived here on a helicopter.

Mr. ANDINA: (Spanish spoken)

Ms. CRUZ: They picked him up out of the water in a helicopter.

Mr. ANDINA: (Spanish spoken)

Ms. CRUZ: They said they were in the water at the worst time of the hurricane.

Mr. ANDINA: (Spanish spoken)

Ms. CRUZ: Their apartment complex has disappeared with the hurricane, and these were the only ones that survived.

BERKES: The group named the refuge `The Five Star Shelter'(ph) because it was a good place to be, and they had leadership from Mike and Kathy Schaeffer(ph), recent transplants from Iowa who finished a Red Cross class on managing shelters three days before Katrina arrived.

Mrs. KATHY SCHAEFFER (Hurricane Shelter Manager): And they called us Sunday morning and said we were to be here. The shelter was going to open at noon. So we came at 10:30 and we've been here ever since.

BERKES: The Schaeffers were also displaced by the storm.

Mr. MIKE SCHAEFFER (Hurricane Shelter Manager): We have nothing.

Mrs. SCHAEFFER: Nothing. We have our furniture, we think, in a shed, but no job, no home.

Mr. SCHAEFFER: So that's how we related to the--our people. We knew what they felt 'cause we felt the same thing. We knew they didn't have anything and we didn't have anything, so that's how we could love them, embrace them.

BERKES: The storm and the shelter gave these people one of those indelible experiences. A veteran in the group compared it to going through combat together. Today the experience ends as the school shelter closes. Everyone now moves to a larger building holding hundreds of others, so there are tears and hugs and testimonials, first for the Honduran survivors.

Unidentified Man #1: These are the true heros.

Unidentified Man #2: They ...(unintelligible) accomplished.

Unidentified Man #1: They claimed they did everything for us.

Unidentified Man #3: These guys didn't have to be asked to do nothing. They did it without being asked.

Unidentified Man #4: They...

Unidentified Man #1: ...(Unintelligible)

Unidentified Man #5: Yup.

Unidentified Man #6: Yup. They're our heros.

(Soundbite of clapping)

Unidentified Man #7: Amigos!

Unidentified Man #8: Amigos!

Unidentified Man #9: Amigos!

Unidentified Man #10: Amigos!

BERKES: There's ice cream and chocolate cake.

Mrs. SCHAEFFER: Who's going to get the first piece?

Unidentified Man #11: Thank you very much.

Mrs. SCHAEFFER: You're welcome.

BERKES: And there's sobering reflection about lives disrupted, souls brought together and holding together a special bond. This is hotel clerk Jerry Foster addressing the group.

Mr. JERRY FOSTER (Hotel Clerk): We're moving to another place. From what I understand, we will be more or less a group held together in one way, even though we'll be combined with other groups. I hope we can still hold a pact amongst ourselves.

Unidentified Woman: Yes.

Unidentified Man #12: Gotcha.

Unidentified Woman: And look out for somebody.

Mr. FOSTER: I feel like you have my back.

Unidentified Man #13: Mm-hmm.

Unidentified Woman: Yes.

Unidentified Man #12: I got your back, brother.

Mr. FOSTER: Just try not to lose this feeling that you have tonight--OK?--tomorrow or the next day when we have to leave.

Unidentified Woman: Yes.

Unidentified Man #14: All right.

Unidentified Woman: Thank you.

(Soundbite of clapping)

BERKES: After we turned off our tape recorder, 63-year-old Lewis Beauris(ph) pulled me aside. He's a veteran dishwasher, and he's so good at it he has an award from Harrah's casino. Beauris looked me straight in the eye and said this: `Every generation leaves a landmark for the next generation to learn from. This is our landmark.'

Howard Berkes, NPR News.

SIMON: And you can hear more of Jose Francisco Andina's story on npr.org.

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