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In T-shirts and pajama bottoms they'd worn for four days and shoes caked in New Orleans sludge, Christopher and Monika Sheppard arrived at Houston's Astrodome. In one arm was a cardboard box that held all they owned that the rising waters didn't snatch before they escaped. In another arm was their 16-month-old son, Jackson, quiet with fever and clutching a baby bottle.

They joined an ever-growing number of those made homeless when levees broke following Hurricane Katrina's rampage through Louisiana last week. Although the family owned a car, like many residents of the below-sea-level city who weathered the storm in their homes, they stayed because they had no place to go outside New Orleans and thought they could ride it out.

An inch of water seeped into their basement apartment. Christopher, 27, the son of a retired Baptist pastor, put his wallet and identification documents on top of the refrigerator for safe keeping and took Monika and Jackson upstairs. Three hours later they returned to find four feet of murky water in their apartment. The refrigerator had capsized. The water swallowed the wallet and papers.

The Sheppards had met in a karaoke bar. "I was singing 'God Bless the USA' and he fell in love," said Monika, 35, an opera singer. Two years ago they married. A Catholic, she worked in New Orleans's famed St. Louis Cathedral and freelanced for various occasions.

The sewage-contaminated waters destroyed her music and concert gowns. Christopher, a carpenter, lost his tools. Monika put a canvas purse in a box that contained baby clothes and one pair of women's underwear and pants. Christopher set Jackson on his shoulders. They waded through chest-deep water a half mile to an Interstate 10 bridge, one of the few dry places ...

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September 2005

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