I live in Prince George's, but it's not home.
Home for me is Bogalusa, La., where my mama, daddy, sister, brother, aunts, cousins and extended family still live, where I can go almost anywhere, any time and see people I know. For most people, home is the place to which we feel eternally connected, and often, it has nothing to do with where we choose to live.
That's why I panicked several months after moving to Maryland, when I returned from work one evening and learned that an explosion and gas leak at the paper mill had caused most of my home town to evacuate. As it turned out, there were only a few major injuries, and my family was all right.
But I can sympathize with the North Carolina natives in Prince George's who weren't relieved when Hurricane Floyd blew through the Washington area with much less fury than expected. They were still worried about the folks back home--and with good reason.
Floyd caused the worst flooding in North Carolina's history. Forty-eight people died, nearly 1,500 homes were destroyed, and thousands of others were damaged. Homeless families still are living in shelters, depending on gracious friends and strangers for food, clothes and clean drinking water.
Much of that help is coming from Prince Georgians and other Washington area residents who still call North Carolina home.
Eva Norfleet's heart ached as she watched television footage of folks from home waiting on rooftops to be rescued from rising flood waters. Norfleet, 76, of Hyattsville, was born and raised in Princeville, N.C., one of the hardest-hit areas and a historic African American town.
Princeville, home to about 1,900 residents, was chartered by freed slaves who settled there after the Civil War.
"I couldn't believe it," Norfleet said, recalling images of the flood. "I was in two floods back there before we left, but it never got like this."
She quickly pulled together a group of other North Carolina natives from her church, Canaan Baptist in the District, to begin collecting donations to send home. Managers at the U-Haul rental and storage center at 2421 Chillum Rd. in Hyattsville allowed the group to collect and store the donations there.
By Thursday, one bin, 10 feet square, was full of mostly clothes. Norfleet said that volunteers will continue to accept donations from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the next few weeks and that they especially need more bottled water, canned goods, can openers, paper goods, toiletries and cleaning supplies.
Donors also may write a check, made out to the Princeville/Tarboro Flood Relief Fund, and take it to any Bank of America branch, formerly NationsBank. Once the water recedes, Norfleet and others expect to deliver the goods to North Carolina and stick around to help clean up.
"God has been so good," Norfleet said. "I have no doubt that everything is gonna be all right."
Seleta Thornton, 38, of Silver Spring, has shown up regularly to help at the Hyattsville storage center. Thornton, a member of Canaan Baptist Church, was born in Tarboro on the Tar River, and her grandparents still live in Princeville--or, at least, they did before the floods.
Her 80-year-old grandfather, Edward Bridgers, had been mayor of Princeville and with his wife, Carrie, owned a plaza and leased the buildings to entrepreneurs who opened a restaurant, convenience store, liquor store, Laundromat, beauty and barber shop, as well as offices.
It's all under water now.
"You feel helpless," Thornton said. "You look on TV and see things like this happen in other places, but to see on TV a place that has been devastated and recognize everything, you feel a part of it. We're trying to do something to help. To us, this is a place we call home."
Thornton's two sisters and brother all live in the Washington area. Her parents left the District when they retired and moved to Wilmington, N.C., closer to home. They had fled to Princeville in hopes of escaping Floyd's wrath but instead got caught in the flood.
Washington area churches and charities are helping out in other ways.
On Saturday, Dupont Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Southeast Washington held a prayer service and fund-raiser for the flood victims. One member, Linda Wheeler, a Gaithersburg resident and native of Princeville, used her rent money to lease a truck to deliver goods to folks suffering back home.
At the Breath of Life Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Fort Washington, about a half-dozen members loaded a truck with goods and were planning a trip to North Carolina when North Carolina emergency officials advised against it. Flood waters are still high, and many roads remain closed.
The church instead raised a special offering during its Saturday service to send to North Carolina.
"We have a number of folks who have friends and relatives in the area," said Pastor Luther Palmer. "We understand the conditions are poor down there. We lifted an offering to help provide for them."
It's one thing to help when home folks are in trouble. But I'm always impressed by folks who are compelled by tragedy to act, even when they have no connection to the place or its victims.
In Capitol Heights, lawyer Standley Brady, director of the S.B. Step Ahead mentoring program, is collecting donations for flood victims through "Project Hope." He has no sentimental ties to North Carolina but has organized foreign relief efforts to South Africa and just wanted to help.
Donations may be taken to his office at 4003 Ellis St., Capitol Heights. Monetary contributions may be made to the Project Hope fund at Bank of America.
"Something just hit me and said if I can go to South Africa, I ought to be able to do something here," he said.
To comment or suggest a story idea, feel free to write me at 14402 Old Mill Rd., Suite 201, Upper Marlboro, Md. 20772; send me an e-mail at frazierL@washpost.com; or call me at 301-952-2083.
CAPTION: A Princeville, N.C., home collapsed in Hurricane Floyd's aftermath. Many North Carolina natives in the Washington area banded together to provide aid for those in need.