- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 14, 2006

Just as Jammie McDonald thought she was coming to terms with the void created by Hurricane Katrina, coverage of the disaster’s one-year anniversary broke the evacuee’s heart.

Archived footage on a television special showed a family she knew, and she still does not know what became of them.

“The anniversary is like a really hard time for me,” said Mrs. McDonald, 29.

After the August 2005 disaster that wiped away their apartment and belongings in New Orleans, Mrs. McDonald, her husband, Anthony, and their children Malik-Ali, 7, Zairu, 6, and Ghaiya, 2, decided to make their new home in Prince George’s County.

The McDonalds, who arrived here in October, are among the estimated 7,000 people who came to the D.C. area to seek help after the hurricane left parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama underwater, said Cameron Ballantyne, a spokesman for the American Red Cross of the National Capital Area.

Officials from charity and government agencies say the evacuees have since scattered, either returning home or moving to other places. As of last month, more than 12,300 households in Maryland, Virginia and the District were receiving Katrina-related assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a spokeswoman said.

“I like it here,” Mrs. McDonald said of the Hillcrest Heights neighborhood where her family lives. “I like the people here.”

Mr. McDonald, 27, a Baltimore native, agreed: “There’s definitely more opportunities, more jobs and better pay.”

For the McDonalds, the decision to remain here was simple: They had nothing to return to.

“I don’t see it being safe anytime soon because of the levee situation,” Mr. McDonald said.

The McDonalds fled to a relative’s home in Baton Rouge two days before Katrina hit, and have not returned to their home in New Orleans since.

Two months after Katrina, the factory where Mr. McDonald worked as a hydroblast technician was still closed. Tensions began to rise in their relatives’ household, and the McDonalds said they began to feel unwelcome.

So, the McDonalds decided to start over. They loaded up their sputtering 1991 Toyota Corolla with clothes and photo albums and with their children set out to see relatives in Oxon Hill.

“We were praying the car made it,” Mrs. McDonald said.

Relatives in Oxon Hill immediately directed the McDonalds to groups offering relief to evacuees. The family had not previously registered with FEMA because “everything was chaos,” Mrs. McDonald said.

The first few weeks were difficult. The McDonalds had little privacy.

With just two air mattresses, the family in November moved into a two-bedroom apartment in a Hillcrest Heights complex that took in Katrina evacuees.

With FEMA assistance, the McDonalds bought two plush black couches with matching gold pillows, which make the living room cozy. Money from Catholic Charities allowed them to buy new beds. A new friend donated a dinette set. Mrs. McDonald, a skilled bargain shopper, got several pieces of African art from a Salvation Army Thrift Store.

In January, Mr. McDonald, with his uncle’s help, found a job as a night counselor at Behavioral Research Associates in Southeast.

The boys attend Valley View Elementary School in Oxon Hill. Mrs. McDonald, a stay-at-home mom with a background in respiratory therapy, wants to return to school and open a day care center to bring in extra income.

On Nov. 1, FEMA will cease the family’s rental assistance, and that worries Mr. McDonald.

“I worry about money, the cost of living, being the breadwinner,” he said. “It takes adjustment going from paying $325 a month [in rent in New Orleans] to $1,000.”

Nightmares of Katrina still haunt them. But life goes on, Mrs. McDonald said.

“You try not to think about it so you can move on, because you have other things in life that you grieve about, too,” she said.

Mrs. McDonald thinks divine intervention played a role in the move.

“That little raggedy car made it here for a reason,” she said. “I think God has a purpose for us being here. We’ll see what it is.”

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