Just as Hurricane Katrina's winds scattered tree limbs, personal belongings, and other debris, it also dispersed families, friends, and coworkers across cities and states.
At least one group of nine youth, ages 11-17, however, was able to stick together. The girls, all living in a group home run by Raintree Children's Services in New Orleans, did not have immediate family to care for them, but during one of the country's worst natural disasters, they realized they had each other.
"One of the surprises to come out of this experience is watching them develop relationships with each other and take care of each other in a strange town," says Raintree Clinical Therapist Shannon Lovell. "These are kids that have histories of serious acting out behavior, but we have not experienced that through this crisis, and I find that remarkable."
As soon as she got the word that Katrina was headed straight for New Orleans, Executive Director Laura Jensen booked rooms at a La Quinta Inn in Houston for herself, the girls in the group home, and a few other staff. She also called all of the foster parents working with Raintree and urged them to leave the area.
Jensen is no stranger to arranging an evacuation for Raintree's children and staff due to an impending storm, but the speed with which Katrina bore down on New Orleans was like none she had experienced before.
"This hurricane came so much faster than what we normally experience. It's really hard for people outside of the area to understand why there were people here," she says. "By Saturday, I couldn't find anymore reservations in Houston, and if you didn't have a vehicle to get out, you just couldn't get out. Some of the foster parents thought they'd just wait it out, but we had to contact them and say, 'You have to get out of here.'"
After spending about a week and a half in their Houston hotel, the Raintree group moved into a house and office space in Natchitoches, Louisiana, a five-hour drive from New Orleans. The staff of Cane River Children's Services in Natchitoches found the space for Raintree to rent. …