Susan Norwood spent yesterday morning mapping out her future: Rent a car. Search for a house. Find a job. In that order.
"I want my own address," she said as she sifted through the scraps of paper she has used to jot down phone numbers of people who have offered help in the nearly two weeks since Hurricane Katrina upended her life.
A lifelong New Orleans resident, Norwood was a record keeper for the U.S. Agriculture Department. She was used to working 12-hour days and playing an active role in her grandchildren's education, taking field trips with them, meeting with their teachers. She was single and had her own car, which she sometimes used to take road trips on her own.
Now Norwood, 47, and her two adult sons are living with Richard and Dawn Zierdt, a Montgomery County couple they met only the night before after taking a 40-hour bus ride from Houston to Rockville.
Norwood led her extended family of 21 from New Orleans to Houston to escape the storm. There, she met the Rev. William Finch, pastor of St. Raphael's Catholic Church in Rockville, who had traveled to Houston hoping to persuade 50 evacuees to follow him back to Maryland. Finch promised $500, cell phones, help finding jobs and a place to stay that wasn't a hotel room or sports arena. Nine parishioners are housing the evacuees in their Rockville and Potomac homes. "We want to make things easier for them," said Dawn Zierdt, a client services specialist for a home health care company.
The 26 evacuees who accepted Finch's offer -- the Norwoods plus a group of five Vietnamese immigrants who were flown to the Washington area -- arrived in Rockville on Friday night. Parishioners greeted them with cheers and applause as they walked off the bus in the parking lot of St. Raphael's. "This is just the beginning," Jeffrey Dunckel, a parishioner who accompanied Finch to Houston, told them. There were many hugs and tears and a celebratory dinner of pasta and salad.
But yesterday, the excitement wore off and reality set in.
"I need to get my independence back," Norwood said, wiping tears from her eyes.
"I appreciate the assistance, don't get me wrong. I appreciate it from the bottom of my heart," she said. "But I need to move. I can't sit still."
Neither could her son Spencer, 26. He paced around the Zierdts' living room, now his living room, but not quite. A cell phone earpiece dangled from his head. Nowhere to go, nothing to do. He had been a cook in New Orleans.
"I want to walk down to see if there's a restaurant," he said to his mother.
"No, baby," she said, not wanting him to wander off in a neighborhood he doesn't know.
Finch said the church won't abandon the evacuees now that the adrenaline rush of finding them and traveling back to Rockville has waned. Their needs are great: Two have diabetes, three have hypertension, two have asthma, one has glaucoma and four lost their eyeglasses. On Tuesday, they will be taken to a clinic in Germantown for checkups.
To meet their long-term needs, Finch said he will help them find jobs and, realizing that they do not want to live in someone else's house for very long, get permanent homes. Finch said he is willing to pay the security deposit and a few months' rent. His parishioners -- many of them well-to-do -- have raised more than $100,000 to support the evacuees.
"I don't think they want to be coming to me every time they need something," he said. "They're very proud. They want to be their own people."
They also want to be together. A close-knit family, the Norwoods decided to move to Maryland only when they realized that they could do so together.
A few miles away, Norwood's 29-year-old daughter, Keyoka Norwood, settled into her temporary home with her boyfriend and five children, who range in age from 2 to 11.
The family is staying in the five-bedroom, six-bathroom house of Scott and Cindi Sobel. He is a public relations vice president, and she owns a kitchen and bathroom design business. Four of their five children no longer live with them.
The Norwood family left New Orleans with just a few items of clothing and their car, thinking they would return within days. Yesterday, after a shopping trip for clothing at a Target in Gaithersburg, they rested in the Sobels' TV room, incredulous that they were now living in a city they had never been to, with people they barely knew, in a house they could never have dreamed of living in. "This makes our house back home look like a matchbox," Keyoka Norwood said.
Her boyfriend, Ferron Scott, 32, a limo driver back in New Orleans, hopes to get a job as a county bus driver. The couple plans to enroll their children in school this week. If all goes well, they will make Maryland their permanent home, they said.