Last week, kids in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama were just getting back into the swing of school. When the news came on Sunday night that some school districts would be closed Monday and Tuesday because Hurricane Katrina was coming, you can imagine that some kids were slapping each other high-fives -- unscheduled days off.
But now, three days after Katrina's winds and rains blew through states along the Gulf Coast, many children have lost their homes and some have lost family members. Millions of people -- kids and adults -- are coping without electricity, fresh water and food. As Katrina ruined homes and businesses, the storm also flattened schools.
Things that kids often take for granted -- a house, a hot meal, a comfortable bed, even homework -- are now luxuries that tens of thousands of children no longer have. And it may be weeks or even months before these kids and their parents get back to anything close to normal.
In New Orleans, Louisiana, more than 20,000 people who had been living since Sunday at the Superdome football stadium were being put on 500 buses and sent to yet another sports arena, the Astrodome in Houston, Texas, more than 300 miles away.
New Orleans is largely under water, and the governor of Louisiana has said that the few people left in the city of 480,000 must leave. On Monday it seemed that New Orleans might have been spared the worst of Katrina. But by Tuesday, levees -- earthen dams designed to keep water from the Gulf of Mexico and Lake Pontchartrain out of the city -- gave way. In parts of New Orleans, the water is 20 feet deep, about as tall as a two-story house.
Mayor Ray Nagin said, "We are looking at 12 to 16 weeks before people can come in [the city]." In other words, people who left their homes in August might not be home for Christmas.
In Mississippi, more than 100 people have died, and officials worry that the number could rise. Many people are stranded on the roofs of their homes waiting for military helicopters to rescue them. Across the Louisiana-Mississippi-Alabama area where Katrina hit, more than 1.6 million people are without electricity and phone service. Roads are either covered with water or have been destroyed by the flooding.
Many groups are collecting money and supplies to help the people affected by Katrina, much the way they did after the tsunami in the Indian Ocean last December. The Red Cross has collected about $21 million since Monday. Its Web site is www.redcross.org.