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CNN Presents: Children of the Storm
Aired October 8, 2005 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening I'm Carol Lin with a look at what's happening right now in the news.
Aftershock tonight in South Asia after a magnitude 7.6 earthquake, we have confirmed 1,300 people dead in Pakistan, India and Afghanistan. Rescuers are still searching for survivors who are buried alive.
And the bird flu may be making its way West for Central Asia. About 1,800 birds died after the Avian Flu was detected on a farm in Turkey. Some birds die from the virus; others were destroyed as a precaution. And officials are now investigating infected birds in Eastern Europe.
And time now for CNN PRESENTS, tonight CHILDREN OF THE STORM powerful stories of children struggling to rebuild their lives in the wake of Katrina and Rita. A special look at how kids are coping in their new beginnings and their new surroundings in a world forever changed.
And at 9:00 p.m. it's "Larry King Live." Tonight, a double bonus. Larry interviews legendary actor Peter Falk and comedian/actor Paul Reiser, and at 10:00 Eastern, the latest up to the minute news on CNN Saturday Night.
I'm Carol Lin and I'll see you then.
ANNOUNCER: Children grapple with a world forever changed after their lives are shattered by a storm.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is hard. It's very hard to just basically get up and everything that you know of, you basically leave and you start all over again and it's hard.
ANNOUNCER: Coping with the trauma.
CAROLINE GREEN, 9-YEAR-OLD, HURRICANE KATRINA VICTIM: The hurricane came and she took away my house, most of my family, most of my friends. Everything really.
ANNOUNCER: Adjusting to the strange surroundings.
ELIJAH MCGEE, HURRICANE KATRINA SURVIVOR: I'm 100 percent waiting to come back to my old school.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: How come 100 percent?
MCGEE: 'Cause I hated that one.
ANNOUNCER: Finding comfort on a familiar field.
JC BRIGNONE, HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL PLAYER, HURRICANE KATRINA SURVIVOR: I need to go out and play football. It's good for me. It gets me out of the--out of the sad situation.
ANNOUNCER: Struggling to survive.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tony's at a 35 percent chance of survivor without a transplant right now. So, it was critical.
ANNOUNCER: Tonight, how the youngest survivors are getting on with their lives in a special CNN PRESENTS: CHILDREN OF THE STORM.
ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Their stories are as heartbreaking as the uncertainty surrounding their future.
CAROLINE GREEN, 9-YEAR-OLD, HURRICANE KATRINA VICTIM: The hurricane came. Name was Katrina. She took away my house, most of my family, most of my friends, my school. Everything really.
COHEN: Stories of survival, nightmarish at best.
How long did you spend in your attic before they came to get you with the boat?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A week.
COHEN: A week in your attic?
Young lives ended, uprooted, overwhelmed.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So now I just stay in the shelter until my mom find us a home to go to. Because I don't have a home to go back to in New Orleans.
COHEN: Innocent children reliving the trauma of Katrina.
ERIC GREEN, DOCTOR, CHILDREN'S COUNSELOR, JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY: Okay, I want you all with your eyes closed to remember that you're in a safe space, it's a contained space, no one's going to hurt you. You're safe. You're valued...
COHEN: Dr. Eric Green is a children's counselor from Johns Hopkins University.
GREEN: On the count of three, slowly open your eyes.
COHEN: For nearly two weeks in September he worked with a group of evacuated children at Creswell Elementary School in Saint Landry Parish, Louisiana.
DR. GREEN: Did parrot have--did parrot lose his house too? CAROLINE GREEN, 9-YEAR-OLD, HURRICANE KATRINA VICTIM: Yeah.
COHEN: Caroline Green is 9 years old and what this 3rd grader has a hard saying, her puppet says quite easily.
C. GREEN: A hurricane came and blowed down his house.
DR. GREEN: Oh.
COHEN: Puppets, breathing techniques, art and sand play. They're all incorporated into these play therapy sessions. Dr. Green asks Caroline to make a scene in the sandbox. Any scene she wants.
GREEN: Katrina just washed away my whole house. My house is flooded and my deck. Everything just started falling like this.
COHEN: Was it difficult for you to watch Caroline at play?
DR. GREEN: I don't know if it was difficult but it was definitely a cathartic emotion that is something you don't see very often that happens in sand play. It was very intense and it was very healing because she connected the image with the affect.
COHEN: Plastic toys upside down, much like little Caroline's post-Katrina world. Her New Orleans home is gone. She now lives in a nearby Red Cross shelter in Opelousas, Louisiana. She has her mother by her side but cousins and friends are missing.
C. GREEN: I think that they got flooded and things like that, or they must have swim somewhere but I don't know because I really miss them too.
COHEN: An hour later in another session, 13-year-old Tommy Coomba shows a collage of what he misses most.
DR. GREEN: What is your cat's name?
TOMMY COOMBA (ph), 13-YEAR-OLD, HURRICANE KATRINA SURVIVOR: We named him Meow-meow. His real name was Tigger.
COHEN: Do you think he's alive?
COOMBA (ph): I think he is. I--I--I have my hopes.
COHEN: You loved your cat?
COOMBA (ph): So much.
COHEN: The 6th grader and his family survived for one week in their Louisiana attic. Photographs show the incredible escape Tommy's family made as the water crept floor to floor.
GARY ORAMOUS, TOMMY'S FATHER: He was helping a lot. He was trying to get his mom up and it was a little bit of a situation. We had to make her little steps to get up, you know, with a dresser, and an end table, just mainly helping me grab stuff and put it on top to helping mom get through. He's a real trooper.
COHEN: You've been through a lot in the past couple of weeks. How do you feel?
COOMBA: I feel good. Very grateful. It could have been worse but my dad was telling me we're very lucky because a lot of people had passed away.
COHEN: But that was September 19th. We catch up with Tommy and Caroline at their shelter a week and a half later. Their spirits decidedly different.
C. GREEN: I want to go home.
COHEN: By now those play therapy sessions have ended. Dr. Green and his team are back in Washington. And then Hurricane Rita. The children are forced to evacuate once again and uprooting them anger's Creswell Elementary School's principal.
CHARLES MOORE, CRESWELL ELEMENTARY SCHOOL PRINCIPAL: I think that's extremely stupid. I think it harmed them. I think children have a tendency of blaming themselves for things so they may have thought that you that, you know, we must have done something wrong in this shelter and so that's why they're sending us out, you know? So. It's pretty tough.
C. GREEN: I'm tired of going back to the shelter--the shelter. I just wanted to come home. I told my mom, I said, "Mom, I'm ready to get my life back together." She said she don't know, she didn't know what to do right now. She don't have any money, she don't have nothing so she don't know what to do right now.
COHEN: Tommy Coomba has become remarkably vocal as well. His older brother is missing and the usually soft-spoken 6th grader unleashes his frustrations.
COOMBA: I'm going to be honest with you, not to be mean to say this but I feel like a bum. And I don't like living like this. Is-- my people we always had food on our table and here I ain't go nothing but a bed and a blanket and a couple of clothes. That's all I got. There's a few friends like him.
COHEN: In the trauma of Katrina, children's lives upside down. Will they ever feel safe again?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Don't cry.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE CHILD: Go, set go!
ANNOUNCER: Coming up, signs of hope in a Parish outside of New Orleans. Kids returning to their homes and schools for the first time.
KAYE: You've been out of that school now for over a month. What do you think your first day will be like?
KAYE: Perfect? What's going to make it perfect?
MCGEE: My friends.
ANNOUNCER: When we come back, one family that's coming home and starting over.
OSCAR CHARLES: When the water was coming high and we had to swim to the bridge and we had got up the bridge and we had to sleep in the bridge. And then we had went to the Convention Center, most of the people sleeping outside because the inside smelled bad.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's 6:00 a.m. time for Elijah McGee to sharpen his number twos and get ready for school.
ELIJAH MCGEE, HURRICANE KATRINA SURVIVOR: Mom?
CYNTHIA MCGEE, MOTHER TO ELIJAH, HURRICANE KATRINA SURVIVOR: You got lotion in your room right by the bed.
KAYE: School hasn't been on Elijah's schedule for weeks. Since he evacuated his home in Metairie, Louisiana the day Katrina hit, Elijah and his siblings Edwin, Ian and Emani (ph) have only been to school three times.
MCGEE: Set. Hike.
KAYE: A temporary school near their uncle's house in Baton Rouge.
MCGEE: 100 percent waiting to come back to my old school.
KAYE: How come 100 percent?
MCGEE: 'Cause I hated that one.
KAYE: What was it like to start at a new school where you didn't know anybody?
KAYE: But before Elijah could even think about going back to school, like many evacuees along the Gulf Coast, there was work to be done. Elijah's brushing up on his reading.
MCGEE: "I keep walking and bouncing the basketball."
KAYE: And cleaning out the shed with his brothers and sister.
MCGEE: Eww. That's going to make me throw up.
KAYE: Everything inside it soaked from the storm; the stench too much for Elijah's sensitive stomach. What happened in there?
MCGEE: Those clothes stink. I had to throw up and I just threw up.
Mom, what about your clothes?
C. MCGEE: Just leave them there, I'm going to put them in a room.
KAYE: The last month has been tough of Elijah. Back and forth to Baton Rouge, crammed into his uncle's apartment with a dozen others, then a hotel for three weeks. Elijah's happy to be home even if it flood and is now growing mold.
C. MCGEE: You can see the mold growing...
KAYE: So you came in and cleaned up a lot...
C. MCGEE: I came in and cleaned with a brush and the bleach and tried to get as much as I can. Mopped the floors. I wiped the wall right here.
KAYE: Other than that and a few loose bricks, the McGee home is pretty much intact. Still no telephone or cable, video games are the main source of entertainment.
Strike. Woo-hoo. All right. What do you think?
MCGEE: I'm still going to beat you.
KAYE: You're still going to beat me. I'm sure you will. But you've had a lot of time to practice being home from school and all.
Cynthia McGee is anxious to put Super Mario to bed and get her kids back to the books.
C. MCGEE: They're not learning anything. You know? I can only do so much, you know, trying to, you know, help them out, teach them certain things with the workbook that they have. But they need to be in school.
KAYE: When you're home with school you get to spend a lot more time with your baby.
KAYE: You've been taking care of her all this time since the storm?
For the kids at Airline Park Elementary it is the first day back at school since Katrina hit.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is Dennis, he's one of our new friends. KAYE: All but three school systems in the New Orleans area have now reopened. School is the sense of normalcy these kids need. As principal Linda McVille (ph) tells it, kids don't like to dwell on disaster. They're anxious to move on.
LINDA MCVILLE (ph), PRINCIPAL, AIRLINE PARK ELEMENTARY: It's an education for all of us. Parents, teachers, everyone because this is the big storm that was always spoken about that--since I was a child. You know? "The big storm," and it actually came to pass and so now we're living it and having to recreate normal.
KAYE: So Principal McVille (ph) got creative.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good morning!
KAYE: Airline Park Elementary was transformed into a Louisiana version of the Emerald City. A yellow brick road welcomed kids back. Part of a "There's no place like home" theme. Students made eagles for the Eagle's nest in the lobby because eagles always return home.
There was a Mardi Gras parade, and the beginnings of a quilt. Each square a story of survival.
These kids have a lot of class time to make up. Because of Katrina they missed 23.5 days of school. Now according to the principal that's 8,742 minutes and she plans to make up every minute by adding an extra hour to every school day.
The first day back proved promising but there is still concern. Will these young minds be able to concentrate after that killer storm? And will the familiar faces, their friends, return too?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Miguel's not coming back, Wilmiqua (ph), Carolina...
KAYE: So far, only about half the children in the district are back in school. Recovery will be slow; survival, part of the lesson plan.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bye-bye. Y'all have a good day. See you tomorrow.
KAYE: It will take time but the students at Airline Park Elementary are finally home.
ANNOUNCER: Coming up, he's 400 miles from home. His friends are scattered. His house is gone. But his love for a game remains strong.
JC BRIGNONE, HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL PLAYER, HURRICANE KATRINA SURVIVOR: It's an adrenaline rush. It's my sport. It's my life.
ANNOUNCER: Finding comfort after Katrina on a high school football field, when "Children of the Storm" continues.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: It is a Friday night ritual played out in hometowns and communities across America, the sights and sounds of high school football.
BRIGNONE: It's my sport. It's my life.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: JC Brignone is 17 years old. He's a high school senior. Football is his passion.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: JC Brignone is 17 years old. He's a high school senior. Football is his passion.
BRIGNONE: I mean, anytime you say something about football I've got to be in the middle of it. That's where I like to be.
LEE BRIGNONE, JC'S MOTHER: I think if he had a choice, honestly, in breathing and playing football, he would play football.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: But this season, football is more than a game for JC, it's an escape.
BRIGNONE: I just go out and play football until my mind clears out. I go knock somebody's head off or dig somebody in the dirt it's just, it's good for me. It gets me out of the sad situation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: You see, JC isn't supposed to be here playing on a field in suburban Atlanta. He's supposed to be here, 400 miles away in Mississippi, wearing the red and black of the Saint Stanislaus Rockachaws playing with his best friends, his senior class teammates.
BRIGNONE: Everything we did was with each other. All football guys stick together. That's how it was every season.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: JC's team won it's first game this season, three days before Hurricane Katrina slammed ashore.
JC, his father Julio and his mother Lee evacuated before the storm hit.
BRIGNONE: I got three pairs of clothes, my dog and just my truck. That's it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: The family's home in Pass Christian was destroyed.
JULIO BRIGNONE, JC'S FATHER: It was like it blew completely away. I don't see no pieces of my house at all.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: JC's school, an all boys catholic academy located right on the water in Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi, also suffered extensive damage. It's 36 football players, many of whom lost their homes scattered. The Rockachaws football season was canceled.
J. BRIGNONE: We're the only team in this city not getting back together. Every other team is back together. We're the only school that can't. We just don't have anything else.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: JC's family relocated to suburban Atlanta where they have friends. He now plays for Parkview, a football powerhouse that has won four Georgia State championships in the last eight years.
J. BRIGNONE: But they were quick to teach me. And it wasn't just the coaches. It was the guys, you know, staying after practice the first three nights, they were with me everyday after practice. They'd take me out to dinner.
L. BRIGNONE: I think he feels like he needs to, you know, prove to his coaches and to his teammates that he's top prospect in the state Mississippi.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: At 6'1", 280 pounds, JC was a welcome addition to the team.
CECIL FLOWE, HEAD COACH PARKVIEW HIGH SCHOOL: He already was a quick study for our offense. He understood the calls pretty quickly and so we were able to put him right to work in drills and things.
Let's go JC! Get him! Set.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: However, attending a new school has been an adjustment. JC's new senior class has more than 600 students. More than were in his entire school in Mississippi.
L. BRIGNONE: I think he hasn't quite let anybody in, as far as friends go. I think he almost feels like he's--he would be betraying his friends.
J. BRIGNONE: Being a senior is one thing every kid waits on. You know, especially, all right, last year there's nothing to worry about anymore. It's down hill from here. It's college on now. It's big fish in a little pond, now I'm about to be a little fish in a big pond again.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: Frustration that can be beaten back on the field.
FLOWE: From the day we'd come and he'd have a down day in the school building but when football practice will come he straps those pads on and then it's all football. And that's sort of a release for him and he's just--he's all football. He's not thinking about problems, he's not thinking about being home sick. He's out there playing because he loves the game.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: JC's family lives in a house that was donated to them. His bedroom is a little messy but Spartan, personal memories, understandably few, two football helmets from his old school on the dresser.
J. BRIGNONE: You know, it's just one of the sentimental things, I guess you'd say. It's--it helped--it's helped me get through a lot. It reminds me of my team and reminds me of my friends and all that so it's good to come back and see one of the things that I love.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: Comfort also comes from calls to teammates spread around the country, friends who should be together.
J. BRIGNONE: Yeah everybody keeps in touch. And that's what helps me get through. And I know that's what helps them get through, too. You know, I mean, it's the hardest part. Losing my friends was worse than losing my house. You know, that's all I had.
L. BRIGNONE: A mom knows. You know, you can see. It's just a little piece of him that was taken away. And nobody can give him that. Not me, not his dad. Not anyone.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: JC's future is bright. He has a 3.2 GPA and a football scholarship waiting for him at Mississippi State where he'll study Civil Engineering.
His old school Saint Stanislaus is scheduled to reopen November 1. JC says he's going back to graduate.
J. BRIGNONE: I've been waiting six years to walk that graduate line. I want to be there when all my friends graduate. And I want them to be there when I graduate. You know, I'm not missing my graduation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: But for now, the rituals of fall Friday nights for JC take place in Georgia, even if his heart is 400 miles away.
J. BRIGNONE: Down deep on the inside we're always going to be the Rockachaws. I play for the Panthers but I'm always going to be a Rockachaw. That will never change.
ANNOUNCER: Coming up, a 6 year olds life hangs in the balance.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where's his doctor? Where do we go? You know, who do we contact? It's critical. He needs this treatment.
ANNOUNCER: A family's fight to save their son.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This all used to be deck.
ANNOUNCER: And rebuild what Katrina left behind. When Children of the Storm continues.
LIN: Good evening, I'm Carol Lin. And here's what is happening right "Now in the News." More pictures of the devastation in South Asia, just as more aftershocks are reported. Rescuers are searching for survivors after a massive 7.6 earthquake struck Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan, 1,300 people died, but are expected.
And a different type of disaster in Guatemala. Heavy rains made worse by Hurricane Stan triggered a mudslide that wiped out an entire town. All 800 residents are feared dead. Guatemala's president flew over the area and said he has never seen anything like it.
Now coming up at the top of the hour on "LARRY KING LIVE," legendary actor, Peter Falk, and big screen star who created TV's unforgettable "Columbo"; and comic actor Paul Reiser, star of "Mad About You." They are together on "LARRY KING LIVE" at 9:00 Eastern.
But right now back to CNN PRESENTS: CHILDREN OF THE STORM, how the youngest storm victims are struggling to cope with a world so different than the one they knew before the hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
And then at 10:00, the latest up-to-the-minute news on "CNN SATURDAY NIGHT."
I'm Carol Lin, I'll see you then.
ANNOUNCER: We now return to CNN PRESENTS.
RHEMA WASHINGTON, AGE 10: Everything was slick, like everything was slick, like somebody just -- like God just whisked his hand over the thing and just went, poof. And everything was gone.
ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's hard to believe, but to 6-year-old Tony Nata, this was once paradise.
Nestled just 31 miles northeast of New Orleans is what remains of Slidell, Louisiana. Little Tony lived here with his family in what was once a picture perfect home.
TONY NATA JR.: I want my house back.
COHEN (on camera): You want your house back?
(voice-over): Tony loved to fish here. Nearly every day he threw a line off his back deck into a canal.
TONY NATA SR., FATHER: This all used to be deck, everything here used to be deck.
COHEN: But Katrina wiped out that deck and so much more, leaving the Natas with no home, no belongings and not much money, a devastating blow to a family already reeling.
You see, 6-year-old Tony is battling cancer.
TONY NATA SR.: Everybody has a story, mine just takes a little bit different twist, and my family's takes a little bit different twist.
COHEN: On Sunday, August 28th, as Hurricane Katrina began its sweep through the Gulf Coast, the Nata family evacuated. Packing just a few things, they locked their doors and drove away.
ROBIN NATA, MOTHER: Never would have dreamed it would have been as catastrophic as it was.
COHEN: These are stills taken of the Natas' property immediately following Katrina. The street in front of their home a river. The family's truck, under water. Their sofa, a floating fixture on the front porch.
But the devastation was nothing compared to the panic of getting their son to his chemotherapy treatment.
ROBIN NATA: Where is his doctor? Where do we go? You know, who do we contact? Baton Rouge lines were down. You don't know where to turn, but you just know that it's critical, he needs this treatment.
COHEN: Six-year-old Tony was diagnosed with Leukemia in November 2003. Remission came 30 days later. But this past June the cancer returned. It was now in his central nervous system, including the membranes surrounding his brain.
A rigid schedule of chemo treatments was now preparing him for a bone marrow transplant. The donor would be his 4-year-old sister, Ali (ph).
ROBIN NATA: Tony is at a 35 percent chance of survival without a transplant right now. So it was critical.
COHEN: In the wake of Katrina, the family, staying with relatives in Cottonport, Louisiana, learned Tony's hospital in New Orleans was evacuated; files, records, doctors, all had disappeared.
And as their son's chemo schedule abruptly ended, his parents frantically searched for help.
A week-and-a-half passed with no treatment, but soon there was news of a Baton Rouge clinic, a center run by St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, and they were reaching out to evacuated children with cancer. Rushing through their front doors, Tony's mother Robin ran straight into a familiar face.
Her name: Dr. Maria Velez (ph). She was a New Orleans evacuee and Tony's original doctor.
ROBIN NATA: We had just seen her in the hallway. She was going grab a cup of coffee and she just hugged and kissed me. I hugged her.
COHEN: Luckily, Tony was doing fine. Dr. Velez checked blood, calculated his chemotherapy dose.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right. You look good, handsome. Good to go.
COHEN: And sent him to the hospital for two days of treatment.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If everything goes well, he should be in the range of 60 percent survival. We're hoping that we can continue with the treatment and put him through transplant and do well. COHEN: It was at this time that Tony Sr. made a heart-wrenching decision: his wife would stay with the children and he would make the difficult trip back to their home in Slidell, to salvage whatever remained.
TONY NATA SR.: It's going to be hard, because there's going to be a big separation with us. Because, I mean, we can't stop. We have to rebuilding our lives some kind of way. I'm going to have to be there, also here with him. I mean, I'm not going to let that part of his life skip away from me.
COHEN: Two weeks later, on September 20th, Robin, little Tony, and Ali, arrived at the clinic for yet another battery of tests. Tony seemed well, he talked about his favorite things.
TONY NATA JR.: Where's the best fishing at?
COHEN: But appearances would be deceiving. Hours later...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We just saw the doctor and Tony's platelet count has fallen once again. So we will be admitted today for a platelet transfusion. And then after his platelets, we will give him a shot in his leg for chemo.
COHEN (on camera): How do you keep going?
ROBIN NATA: You have to. You have to.
COHEN (voice-over): From the clinic, the family headed to the hospital. There, another round of tests, followed by a painful platelet injection.
ROBIN NATA: We come back Monday for spinal tap, and check his fluids and put chemotherapy through and hope it's clear.
COHEN (on camera): What about tomorrow morning? What are going to do tomorrow morning?
ROBIN NATA: Cry. It's hard.
COHEN (voice-over): Tomorrow was the day Robin and her children would travel to Slidell and see what remained of their home.
(on camera): What do you think you're going to see tomorrow when you go back to the house?
ROBIN NATA: A mess.
COHEN (voice-over): On Wednesday, September 21st, the Natas arrived at what was a piece of paradise.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It will be OK. It will be OK.
COHEN: Throughout the gutted home, debris covered the floors, mold crept up the walls.
TONY NATA SR.: The wave was splashing everything around.
COHEN (on camera): And that's all mold.
TONY NATA SR.: That's all mold.
COHEN (voice-over): Little Tony had to stay in the car, all that mold could be toxic to his fragile immune system.
But in the midst of the wreckage and the lifetime of memories scattered on the front lawn, a plague remained pristine. It reads: A fisherman lives here with the best catch of his life.
But it is now the best place for the 6-year-old fisherman to live? It's an agonizing decision: rebuild the home they love, or settle somewhere else.
(on camera): He's going to get his bone marrow transplant in the next couple of months.
TONY NATA SR.: Right.
COHEN: Can he come back here?
TONY NATA SR.: I don't know. I really -- to tell you the truth, I don't know.
COHEN (voice-over): A home devastated. A future uncertain. A family holding on to hope.
ROBIN NATA: This is our life. This is what God chose for us.
We're going to focus on getting Tony his treatment and getting better and he will be a survivor, and we'll be a survivor as a family.
ANNOUNCER: Coming up...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's hard because it's just like, I want to go back to the way I usually lived.
ANNOUNCER: They're miles from home, in a new city and a new school.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I miss my friends and the teachers.
ANNOUNCER: How they're adjusting to a world turned upside down. A new life far from home when "Children of the Storm" returns.
ANNOUNCER: We now return to CNN PRESENTS.
AARIONA KING, AGE 8: All the kids are sitting in the back seat and one adult was in the back too. And we heard that we couldn't go back to -- I mean, New Orleans. And I sat confused like I wanted to go back home. And we couldn't.
LINSEY (ph) SYLVESTER, DISPLACED STUDENT: It's very hard to just basically get up and everything that you know of, you basically leave. And you start all over again. It's hard, it really is.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Seventeen-year- old Linsey (ph) Sylvester has a become a nomad of sorts. She's in Atlanta, Georgia, 500 miles from her New Orleans high school. Her senior year cut short by Hurricane Katrina.
TONETTE SYLVESTER, MOTHER: Needless to say, Lindsay was devastated. We had made plans. She was to do her debut with the Deltas. And we had gone out and bought gowns for her activities.
LINSEY SYLVESTER: I have a very good memory of the last day I was with my senior class. There were so many friendships and so many memories.
PHILLIPS: Lindsay is just one of thousands of displaces students. There are kids starting new schools even as far away as Los Angeles. The storm shut down more than 700 Louisiana and Mississippi schools, leaving more than 400,000 children stranded.
KRIS EVANS, GRIEF COUNSELOR: They're really very tied up in knots basically. Oftentimes we're thinking of, gee, what a devastation to lose your home and your car and your house and all your family photos. But we don't really realize sometimes what is more traumatic for these children is the support group that they've lost. They went to school and were able to talk to children about their problems. And they don't have those friends now.
PHILLIPS: It's 6:00 a.m., and 9-year-old Destiny (ph) Richardson and her 5-year-old sister, Asia (ph), can barely rouse themselves for school. Destiny and Asia are also starting over in a new city and new school. The transition has been tough for the girls.
QIANA RICHARDSON, MOTHER: OK. I need you to hurry. You have got to hurry. You all still have to get dressed.
We start our day a lot earlier than we did at home.
Come on, you've got to get your clothes on.
So we've been adjusting to that and getting up, getting out of the house.
DESTINY (ph) RICHARDSON, DISPLACED STUDENT: I miss my friends and the teachers.
PHILLIPS: Destiny is one of 24 students who found refuge at Woodland Elementary, a public charter school north of Atlanta.
While we visit, two more new children from New Orleans begin school. JAHMAAL COSTON, DISPLACED STUDENT: Our house blew down.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does it make you feel sad?
JAHMIRA COSTON, DISPLACED STUDENT: Yes. And I don't want to leave home. I wanted to stay there with all my stuff and family.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How much is a quarter worth?
PHILLIPS: The teachers face challenges too. It's the first time they've had hurricane evacuees join their classes.
DEBORAH BALLS, TEACHER, WOODLAND ELEMENTARY CHARTER SCHOOL: One was very scared, keeps saying that the water was coming all the time. And that was a little overwhelming, because that was the first experience that I've had with one of the children.
PHILLIPS: Destiny's routine isn't much different than it was at the public school she attended in New Orleans. There is fourth grade math and mandatory school uniforms, but it's still not home.
DESTINY RICHARDSON: I would go by my friend's house or I would just go by (INAUDIBLE), and I would just go by my cousin's house. And I used to go to another park (ph).
LINSEY SYLVESTER: And New Orleans is so small, and Atlanta is just huge and it's a big circle. So that's hard, getting around.
PHILLIPS: Linsey Sylvester is homesick too. She was a popular student at Ursuline Academy High, a private all-girls Catholic school in New Orleans. The school was pummeled by Katrina.
LINSEY SYLVESTER: It hurts to think that all things I would have brought.
PHILLIPS: With their house destroyed in the storm, Linsey and her mom found shelter with relatives in Atlanta. Holed up in the cramped apartment, Linsey worried about her future. Where would she finish her senior year? The resilient teen made her way to a nearby Smoothie King and asked for a job. She was hired on the spot.
TONETTE SYLVESTER: I just looked at her and I laughed and I had to hug here. I'm like, you know, you are worried about so much right now, I said, and you go out and get a job. That was her way of helping. And that was a distraction for her.
LINSEY SYLVESTER: Hi, how are you doing today?
PHILLIPS: Linsey met customers who suggested she look at the exclusive Paideia School in East Atlanta. She interviewed and was accepted, tuition-free. But there would be obstacles. After losing everything in the storm, she would be attending school with affluent kids who had it all.
LINSEY SYLVESTER: Today for lunch, actually, a friend of mine that I just met, we went out to lunch and she actually paid for my lunch today. And that was just so kind, little things you just appreciate so much because you're like, you didn't have to do that.
NISHA SIMAMA, TEACHER, THE PAIDEIA SCHOOL: You've got to understand the nature of why that happens...
PHILLIPS: Counselors agree, displaced high school students have the hardest time adjusting to new schools.
EVANS: Younger children focus so much on the teacher-centered activity in the classroom. In high school those groups are formed by the kids themselves. And lot of the peer pressure comes into effect at the junior high, high school area.
SIMAMA: I think they've all made very, very good adjustments. But I don't think that we should think that the adjustment -- the way that they're doing is necessarily how they are. Because there is post-traumatic stress and they're going to feel that.
PHILLIPS: Linsey's mom says the ordeal has dramatically changed her daughter.
TONETTE SYLVESTER: It's almost like she matured overnight. Some of the things that she used to be concerned about, I mean, it's still there, but she has prioritized it differently now.
LINSEY SYLVESTER: I don't want to even buy too much things. I know I need school clothes and I need a lot of things, but I don't want to buy it because there is that fear of losing everything again.
PHILLIPS: For now, Linsey's odyssey ends in Atlanta. Although she misses her old school and friends in New Orleans, she plans to finish her senior year at Paideia. A strange town, a strange school, now home.
LINSEY SYLVESTER: I want to go back to the way I used to live, like, you feel that way all the time but you have to keep on thinking about the positive. The positive, the positive. That's what it is all about, just giving this a try and going and take it just day by day.
Have a nice day.
ANNOUNCER: Still to come on CNN PRESENTS: They fled New Orleans with little more than memories of a former life, then faced the pain of evacuation once again. Children forced to flee two killer storms when we come back.
ANNOUNCER: We now return to CNN PRESENTS.
NADIA STARK, AGE 15: You just feel like it's following you. Like she, Katrina, didn't mess it up, then Rita came and finished it up for her.
PHILLIPS (voice-over): New Orleans' 9th Ward, before the flood waters swept in it was one of the city's lowest points, both physically and economically. But for the Garley family, Gwendolyn, Shaun (ph), their son DeShaun (ph), and daughter Gabrielle (ph), it was home.
GABRIELLE (ph) GARLEY, DISPLACED STUDENT: Before the hurricane, I mean, my life was perfect to me. I had friends, family. It was fun, we did regular family things.
GWENDOLYN GARLEY, MOTHER: We were geared toward getting my 17- year-old daughter graduated and into college. My 9-year-old, he just loved everything and everybody. We were just having a good time, enjoying life.
BRAD HUFFINES, CNN METEOROLOGIST: The first of the hurricane, the rain bands are moving ashore now in southern Louisiana...
GABRIELLE GARLEY: We were watching TV and stuff, and I was going to call my friend, and so we were like, it's coming this way our senior year? Why our senior year?
When they started calling for a mandatory evacuation, that's when it was like, oh my God, it's going to really be big.
PHILLIPS: That's where the family seven-week ordeal began, fleeing not one, but two killer storms. They headed for a high-rise hotel six miles from home. They thought they would be safe on the upper floors.
GWENDOLYN GARLEY: I thought I would be gone from the home approximately a day, maybe a day-and-a-half.
When we first saw everything in daylight, we went to the balcony and looked down, and all we could see was water. We were looking for ground. We were waiting for the water to go away.
PHILLIPS: Instead, the water kept rising day after day, trapping them inside the hotel. Finally, three days after the storm, a Coast Guard helicopter landed on the roof to tell the evacuees they would begin airlifting people six at a time. Gwendolyn was determined to keep her family together.
GWENDOLYN GARLEY: We just couldn't conceive being separated. So they said women and children first, I asked the guy, when you get a spot for four people, let us know, and then we'll go.
So he said, come on.
PHILLIPS: The helicopter landed on a causeway with a dry stretch of road leading out of town. There the Garley family managed to make their way through the panicky mob to board buses headed away from their water-logged city.
GWENDOLYN GARLEY: We had to literally fight to get up to the bus, push our way through. We were arm-linked.
PHILLIPS: Eight hours later the bus pulled up to the Houston Astrodome. After one night in the makeshift shelter, the Garleys made plans to set down roots closer to family in Texas.
It would be an ill-fated choice. They were heading to Galveston. Over the horizon, beneath ominous skies, yet another storm was growing and heading towards the Garley family.
GWENDOLYN GARLEY: When I heard that Rita was coming, I knew it was time to go. We weren't hanging around through another hurricane. The Red Cross gave us money. We held onto it. FEMA gave us money. We held onto it. And so when were faced with this evacuation, mandatory, we were able to purchase a vehicle and get out of Galveston.
Before I left Galveston, I had the privilege of going on television with CNN and really let them know why I was leaving Galveston.
I would never put my family's happiness in the hands of someone else. We just have to stay together.
PHILLIPS: Gwendolyn's cousin in Atlanta happened to catch her CNN appearance. He contacted her and convinced the family to head for Georgia.
But as the family headed out of Galveston, they got stuck in the evacuation gridlock. After 28 hours cooped up in the car, 9-year-old DeShaun grew dizzy, got sick, and lapsed into a seizure.
GWENDOLYN GARLEY: This was not the first time he had had a seizure. He would take medication. So we knew what was going on. We knew what we had to do, make him comfortable, keep him from choking, and get out of that traffic.
PHILLIPS: The family stopped at a hotel in Waco, Texas. By the time DeShaun recovered, Hurricane Rita made landfall, sparing Galveston. At that point, the Garleys were low on money and running out of options. They pondered their finances and considered returning to their new apartment on the Gulf Coast.
But in the end, one choice made sense.
GWENDOLYN GARLEY: We're going to move to Atlanta and he's going to find employment there. Employment really plays the big thing on where we land.
PHILLIPS: This time the drive should be must less tedious, but still long enough for the family to ponder their future and the life left behind.
GABRIELLE GARLEY: The worst part, being without my friends. I mean, when day-by -- when you go to school and you see them, you're laughing, you never thought that you would never, you know, see them again. DESHAUN (ph) GARLEY, DISPLACED STUDENT: I hope my friends are OK and stuff. Hope you all still are alive. And I hope you're OK, no injuries or nothing.
PHILLIPS: And after their seven-week ordeal, the Garley children are thankful their family is still together.
GABRIELLE GARLEY: Being with my family, not being separated, that's the best out of everything, because they had so many people who were looking for their moms, dads, and we were all together.
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