- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 6, 2008

NEW ORLEANS — There’s no place like home. Especially after spending consecutive nights in three different shelters and being unable to sleep for the past 48 hours.

That was the experience of Marie Barcelona and her fiance Dennis Pleasant. They, along with 12 dogs and two ferrets, returned to her home in the Algiers neighborhood of New Orleans on Friday after being forced out by the approach of Hurricane Gustav and a mandatory evacuation earlier in the week.

They had arrived by bus at the Union Passenger Terminal in downtown New Orleans, a ride that began at 1 a.m. after leaving a shelter in Alexandria, La., 170 miles northwest of New Orleans.

Brushing her hair as the sun rose over the Crescent City, she chatted with her best friend Curishel Smith, as her pets sat in traveling cages stacked on the curb. They were waiting for a ride home.

This was Ms. Barcelona’s second experience as an evacuee, having been forced to leave when Hurricane Katrina hit three years ago.

“You feel hopeless, you just want to come home,” she said. “We evacuated like you asked us to, but how are we supposed to support ourselves,” she asked rhetorically. “FEMA completely denied us.”

This time around she was able to travel with her pets. When Katrina hit, many people were forced to make a choice whether to leave their pets with someone else or just leave them behind when they evacuated.

About 900 people returned to New Orleans Friday morning on an Amtrak train from Memphis and were greeted by New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin.

Carrying personal belongings in large garbage bags, boxes and suitcases, some had smiles on their faces as they passed a gantlet of the press corps. Many appeared tired and worn out. In the sweltering heat, some shook Mr. Nagin’s hand as he greeted them with a “Welcome back!”

Lines of returnees walked along the train station platform, and out to the street as they headed to city and school buses parked outside to take them home.

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