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Seeking shelter from the storm

Kim Mitchell cradled her dozing 17-month-old son in her arms gently as she scanned the crowds gathered in the unfamiliar environment, searching for familiar faces that had made the long journey with her.

Nearly 50 evacuees from the New Orleans area and Gulf Coast of Louisiana milled about at Storms Creek Apartments in Ironton Monday, ready to start a new chapter in their lives that were turned upside down by Hurricane Katrina.

"It has been difficult, exciting and scary going to a new place," said Mitchell of Marrero, La., as she consoled her awakening son Jeremiah Jones.

"We left our family our friends, our community, our church, everything behind."

For Mitchell and many of the others, the uncertainly of their future remains the most difficult part of their trials that began more than two weeks ago when the hurricane and resulting flood left the Gulf Coast devastated.

"I was scared," said Augustine Scott of Kenner, La., who left before the storm hit their town and flooded her home with two-stories worth of water. "I was crying the whole while riding down here. I was real nervous.

"I left all my family. It is just me and my sister and my two children," Scott said, while her 4-year-old daughter Keyina eyed the back yard longingly.

"I want to go play now," the girl said with a shy smile as she clutched her mom's leg.

Nearby dozens of volunteers and administrators worked on the logistics that would finalize the week-long mission orchestrated by the Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization to take supplies to the coast and bring some people back.

"It is important for the community these people aren't indigents. These are people who had homes, had lives," said volunteer Bob Sweeney, youth minister at Grayson United Methodist Church, who explained there was a screening process before people were brought to Ironton. "These are people who once they get their feet back on the ground, they will serve our community.

"I spent 24 hours on the bus with these people plus all morning today. There is not one of them I wouldn't take into my house. These are good people."

For the D.R. Gossett, executive director of the CAO, the entire mission was about potentially saving lives that have forever been altered.

"We are going to take care of these people. They are our responsibility," he said. "But we will need churches and other groups to help sustain this effort until they can become self-sufficient."

Though some bills are already racking up, the cost to the agency was never a concern when it came time to step up, Gossett said, going on to say that much of what they have done has been on faith that all will work out and community will show support for doing the right thing.

Anyone who would like to help can send donations to the Katrina Hurricane Relief Fund, C/O of the Ironton Lawrence County CAO, 305 N. Fifth St., Ironton, OH 45638 or call (740) 532-3534.

"The community has been so generous but we have got more needs," Gossett said. "These people are going to need phone cards, we are going to need a volunteer transportation service, groceries and more."

For now though, most of the men, women and children are just happy to have a roof over their heads and dry land beneath their feet.

Still, it will likely be months, or even years, before all the wounds heal and they feel comfortable in their new surroundings. As 6-year-old Andrew Scott said: "I'm missing my home."