Katrina's Littlest Evacuees
updated 12/26/2005 AT 01:00 AM EST
•originally published 12/26/2005 AT 01:00 AM EST
A LITTLE FIGHTER-AND A NEW HOME
•Bossier City, La. Born May 30, 2005
"It's hard to remember those days in detail," says Paula Norris, 26. "Basically I was a basket case." She's referring to the two weeks when she and her fiancé, Matthew Rasar, 25, were separated from their newborn daughter. Kayla, born 14 weeks early, was already dealing with a hole in her heart, underdeveloped lungs and a damaged intestine when the storm hit. But the family's all together now in a new brick house near Shreveport. And Kayla—who still wears a heart monitor but is now in excellent condition—has proved to be a trouper. "She doesn't even look like a preemie," says Mom. "She's healthy and plump, nice and rosy. She's a little fighter."
A LONG JOURNEY BACK
•Algiers, La. Born June 29, 2005
Life post-Katrina isn't easy for the Nunez family, back in New Orleans and living in a single room of a house shared with relatives. But it sure beats the 10 days when, forced to flee the city, they had to leave Angel behind in a hospital. "I was crying the whole time," says mom Zinea Nunez, 17. Born with severe birth defects, Angel had already spent his first two months in three different hospitals. But he's home now—and holding his own. "When I picked him up," she says, "he started to smile at us."
Maleaha Alexis Charles
A FORCED SEPARATION
•Slidell, La. Born Aug. 25, 2005
Carol Charles, 36, knows that leaving her infant daughter in the neonatal ICU when she and her family evacuated was the right thing to do. But it certainly wasn't easy. "I was hysterical," she says. Carol and her daughters Breanna Rae, 12, and Makayla Lynn, 9, rode out the storm in Mississippi, while her husband, Michael, 40, stayed behind to oversee his towing business during the evacuation. Now all four are back home in Slidell, outside of New Orleans, and though they all survived the hurricane, says Carol, "I look back and it gives me goose bumps, just telling the story."
•Keesler Air Force Base, Biloxi, Miss. Born Aug. 22, 2005
His twin brother Ian was born perfectly healthy, but James, who'd been kept in the hospital after his birth because of lung problems, was on a ventilator and couldn't leave when Katrina hit. "It was difficult," says mom Ann, 48, but she and husband Tim, 40, "just had to believe everything was going to be all right." It was. The family has returned to their home in Mississippi, where Tim's a Navy instructor. "We didn't know anything about hurricanes," he says. "We did pretty well, all things considered."