At 3:20 yesterday afternoon, Chonya Davis-Johnson convened a family meeting on the back porch of her Laurel townhouse. "I need to know what services you need," the 31-year-old policy analyst said, passing out slips of paper to two sisters, a cousin and a niece.
The bureaucratic moment came after eight days of raw emotion. Her relatives getting the slips were among 16 New Orleans residents who arrived the day before, all members of her extended family, many trying to rebuild lives that were hardly easy before the storm.
They squeezed into the home Davis-Johnson shares with her husband and 16-month-old daughter. Out on the porch, family members wrote down whether they still had their food stamp cards with them, whether they had immunization records for their kids, if they had been receiving Section 8 housing assistance.
Davis-Johnson's older sister, Rose Davis, 35, emptied a small purse, looking for a prescription dated Aug. 24. It was for asthma medication for her 1-year-old son, Daymond. "Can I get this filled around here?" she asked.
Davis and others flatly say their sister Chonya is the one who made it -- went to college, married a supportive man, advanced in her career. Five minutes into this family meeting, though, Davis-Johnson quit asking about paperwork and slipped into stories of growing up in New Orleans.
"Do you remember what Grandpa would call me?"
"No. Make me laugh, please," said her cousin, Sabrina Davis.
"Tony. Like 'Tony the Tiger,' " Davis-Johnson answered. "He always said I ate Frosted Flakes all day long. And he could never pronounce 'Chonya.' "
The laughs lasted just a few seconds. The sisters' mother is missing. Cora Davis was last seen six days ago apparently trying to get to the Superdome.
"I hope she is in Texas," Davis-Johnson said to her relatives.
And Cora Davis's granddaughter Tiffany Davis, who is also staying in the house, doesn't know where her 2-month-old son is.
The relatives who did get out of New Orleans escaped by various -- and at times terrifying -- routes. They linked up at a shelter north of the city, partially by accident. Davis-Johnson tried to keep up with their travels, eventually chartering a small bus to drive them to Memphis. From there, they took Greyhound to Maryland.
Sabrina Davis, 31, made it to Laurel with three of her four children. She last saw her eldest son, 16-year-old Brandon, in a housing complex in the Ninth Ward before the storm. She doesn't know where he or her mother is and is hoping any moment for good news.
If she could be reunited with them, she would stay in Maryland. "I don't want to go back," she said. "I had lots of bad times in New Orleans."
To help start her family members' lives anew, Davis-Johnson plans to address their public-assistance needs today.
Her younger sister, Joanika Davis, 30, plans to look for a job. She worked at a funeral home in New Orleans, arranging flowers and setting up for visitations. She also made pasta, which she sold at farmer's markets and restaurants. She intends to cold-call restaurants in and around Laurel to ask, "Do you need a pastamaker?"
The relatives are sleeping on air mattresses and open floor space. Neighbors are showing up with food.
Tomorrow, Davis-Johnson plans to take her relatives who have children to schools and get them enrolled. She is hard-charging, politically connected. She works for the D.C. public school system and is pursuing a postgraduate degree through the University of Maryland's Education Policy and Leadership Department. She serves on the city of Laurel's Board of Appeals.
Her older sister needs to check on her monthly disability check. Rose Davis said she has cried less in the past few days than during the deepest bouts of depression she has suffered since childhood. "I have to be strong for them," she said of her children.
She and her two youngest barely made it here. With two other adults, they floated through a New Orleans neighborhood on a box-spring mattress, maneuvering it with a broomstick. They passed garbage, bodies, debris. At one point, they grabbed a tire and stuffed it under the mattress for more flotation.
She takes comfort in the fact that her youngest children don't fully comprehend what they just went through. "Why was the water so tall?" her 3-year-old daughter asked an aunt yesterday.
Not all the people staying with Davis-Johnson appear ready to make Maryland their new home.
Among those staying in the house are her sister-in-law, Shani Johnson, 30; Johnson's longtime boyfriend, Shaun Waters, 29; and their 9-year-old daughter, Shaunni. The couple has been together since high school, living for many years in a one-room public-housing apartment.
Five days before the hurricane hit, they moved into a brand-new, two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment with central air conditioning. Waters was stunned by the size of the bathroom. He spent hours mapping out how he was going to buy nice things for the counters.
"I want to go back," he said yesterday. "That's all I know."
Staff writer Ann E. Marimow contributed to this report.