The bus ride from Houston that was supposed to take 22 hours was closer to 40. Then Susan Norwood saw the "Welcome Home" sign held up by parishioners at St. Raphael's Catholic Church in Rockville, and the miles didn't seem as long or as hard.
"I'm here. I'm home," said Norwood, 47, a record keeper for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in New Orleans.
Norwood and 20 of her relatives left homes and lives behind to come to Rockville last night. Members of the church have raised about $100,000 to give them refuge and a chance to keep their family together as they reassemble their lives.
"Anything I've lost, I've lost," she said. "I've got everything that's important to me here right now."
The families that will house the Norwoods greeted them as they stepped off the bus and escorted them to dinner of salad and chicken parmigiana inside the church.
"I just felt like it was something I needed to do," said Marcia Silvestro, 60, who is taking two evacuees into her home.
"I just hope I can make them happy here."
The trip to Houston was organized by St. Raphael's pastor, the Rev. William Finch, who journeyed there Tuesday with little more than the good intentions of his parishioners.
He had no contacts and little in the way of a plan for finding 50 people to relocate. He worked the phones and handed out fliers at the Astrodome before a volunteer at Catholic Charities located an extended family of 21 -- the Norwoods of New Orleans.
By Thursday morning, 17 of them were on a bus to Rockville, with four more following in a car.