Shaunni Johnson, a fourth-grader, erupted in tears at Scotchtown Hills Elementary School in Laurel the other day, crying so hard that a teacher took her to see a counselor.
"My daddy's leaving me," Shaunni said, prompting a school official to call the girl's mother.
Her father, Shaun Waters, 29, had left Maryland for Dallas, hoping to find work -- the second recent upheaval in Shaunni's life. The first came with Hurricane Katrina, when she and her parents fled New Orleans, taking shelter with extended family members in a Laurel townhouse.
A month after Katrina decimated New Orleans and other Gulf Coast communities, Shaunni and her parents are among hundreds of thousands of evacuees scattered across the country.
And over the weekend, the uncertainty of their futures had been vastly compounded by Hurricane Rita, whose torrential rains swept across the region Saturday, bursting over levees to fill New Orleans with water that authorities say will take three weeks to pump out.
Now there were new damage estimates to be collected from afar by evacuees considering return, and those who had been weighing whether to put down roots elsewhere had renewed persuasion as their television screens filled with images of roiling floodwaters.
The Washington Post last week revisited more than a dozen flooded-out Louisianans who were first interviewed shortly after they arrived in the Washington area early this month. Although several said they have settled into fairly comfortable routines, the evacuees continue to live for the short term, unable to talk assuredly about the future.
"I'm planning on going back, but it depends," said Donna Colna, 46, an evacuee from St. Bernard Parish, a New Orleans suburb. She is among three adults, two teenagers and three small children, all from two families, living with a minister and his wife in Darnestown.
"I've heard they're going to bulldoze it," she said of St. Bernard. "And then I've heard they're only going to bulldoze part of it. I've heard it's going to be one year until we can get back in. I've heard five years. There're just so many 'ifs.' "
Most of the evacuees are homesick. Some have found jobs; others haven't. Some, like Waters, have settled their loved ones here, then returned to the South.
Waters decided that Texas would be a better place for him. He could be with his mother and other relatives -- who also are evacuees -- and perhaps make his way into New Orleans and get a job cleaning debris. Shaunni's mother, Shani Johnson, 30, said she and her daughter hope to visit Waters in a few weeks. That came as some comfort to a 9-year-old girl whose world has been turned upside down.
"I cried my whole day at school," Shaunni recalled.
Johnson said that Waters, her boyfriend of 15 years, is "trying to make it better for us" but that it hasn't been easy for her. Nor has separation been easy for Melba Lay, 39, who is staying in the Darnestown minister's home with her daughter and sons while her husband works in Baton Rouge.
"That's the hardest part," she said. Keith Lay is a safety consultant for a commercial air-conditioning company. In their 20 years of marriage before Katrina hit, she said, "we were probably never separated for more than a week."
Shani Johnson was one of 16 extended family members who arrived in the area Sept. 4. They moved in with a relative, Chonya Davis-Johnson, a policy analyst for the D.C. school board, and her husband, Walter, an anesthesia technician. The relatives, who find themselves eating a lot of bologna sandwiches, said money is tight now.
Six of the adults have enrolled children in area schools. And they have located Louisiana relatives whom they lost contact with when Katrina hit, including a 3-month-old boy, Jordan, who was with a nanny during the hurricane. The two survived, and Jordan is in Laurel.
None of the six adults has found full-time work. And they have yet to find apartments they can afford. Johnson's subsidized apartment in New Orleans was $172 a month.
"I'm going home when I can go home," she said. But others in the townhouse might not.
Joanika Davis, 30, arrived in Laurel with her 12-year-old twin daughters, Artisha and Artesha. She said she thinks her daughters could have a better future in the Washington area.
On Thursday, Artisha was showing off the "95" she got on a test in her health class.
"Are you proud of me?" she asked her Uncle Walter.
"Yes," he told her.
In Darnestown, Melba Lay said she and her children -- Gene, 18; and Kassidy, 16; and Avery, 3 -- also have adjusted well. The teenagers attend Darnestown High School.
"They're making a lot of new friends," she said. "The school has treated them very well. In fact, the school the other day gave each of them a $100 gift card to Kohl's, which was really sweet. . . . I've talked to Kassidy's teachers, and they love her. They said she's an integral part of their classes. She's actually helping some of the foreign exchange students."
Avery also has settled into a routine, said Lay, a self-employed accountant who worked at home in St. Bernard. Lay said she and her husband, Keith -- he visited Darnestown over the weekend -- planned to discuss their "temporary future."
"I was actually offered some work," she said. "But we don't know whether the best thing right now is for me to work or just depend on his income, because of Avery. What would it be like for him if I was out of the house? That would be another adjustment."
The 4,500-square-foot Darnestown home belongs to the Rev. Ron Libby, pastor of the Christian Life Center in Rockville, and his wife, Linda. All the evacuees are members of a St. Bernard church whose pastor is related by marriage to the Libbys. The couple said they plan to shelter the Louisianans at least until the school year ends.
Donna Colna's husband, Jimmy, 46, who also is living in the house, is continuing to be paid by his employer, a plumbing-supply company in Louisiana. The couple are here with their daughter, Anna, 21, and two grandsons, Kavin, 9, and Kain, 5. The boys are enjoying elementary school, Donna Colna said. And Anna Colna, a University of New Orleans student, plans to take online courses scheduled to be offered by the school, which is closed.
"I spend my days doing what I've liked to do for most of my days: Get in the kitchen and cook," Donna Colna said. Her specialties: chicken and sausage gumbo, cream cheese pie, red beans and rice, shrimp fettuccine and "a lot of crawfish, if I can find where to buy it up here."
Jimmy Colna, who plays trumpet and trombone, spends a lot of time working with Libby's church choir, getting ready for a big performance this week in Richmond.
"We're going home someday," his wife said. They just cannot say when, or what they'll find when they get there. "That's the worst part," she said. "Not knowing."
At a Giant supermarket in Rockville, Bruce Norwood, 48, stood behind the deli counter Thursday, scanning the meat case for Livingston Farm brown sugar ham. After a co-worker helped him find it, he dropped the ham onto a slicer and carved a thick piece.
"A little thinner than that," the customer said.
He sliced it again. "How's that?"
"Can it get any thinner?"
"It'll be almost shaved," Norwood said.
It was his sixth day on the job, and he was still trying to figure out the difference between provolone and havarti. "There're 40 kinds of cheeses. All I knew at home was two: American and Swiss."
Home is New Orleans, where he lived in a one-bedroom apartment near the Louisiana Superdome and worked various jobs at various times. He made $10 an hour as a construction worker; now he makes $6.25 an hour at the Giant. But he said that's okay. "I was in no position to turn down any job at this time," he said.
When Katrina hit, Norwood and 20 relatives left New Orleans for a hotel in Houston. They were discovered there by the Rev. William Finch, who had collected more than $100,000 from his parishioners at St. Raphael's Catholic Church in Rockville to charter a bus and bring back any evacuees he could find. Among them were the Norwood relatives, who moved in with church members when they arrived in the area Sept. 10.
Eight of them, including Bruce Norwood, have found jobs at such businesses as Whole Foods Market and the Clyde's restaurant chain. Six others have applied to be Ride On bus drivers for Montgomery County. Their children are enrolled in a Catholic school, the tuition having been waived. And Finch and his employees are working to get them cars and housing. Finch has agreed to pay their security deposits and three months' rent.
"Everything is falling into place," said Eileen Kutchak, the parish employee who is coordinating the effort.
Keyoka Norwood, 29; her boyfriend, Ferron Scott, 32; and their five children, ages 2 to 11, have been staying with parishioners in Rockville. But now that Scott, who was a limo driver in New Orleans, has fielded a couple of job offers as a driver, he and his girlfriend have been looking for a rental house.
They said they might stay in the area if they find good jobs and a place to live. As for New Orleans, Keyoka Norwood said, "There's nothing there now."
Bruce Norwood said he enjoys his temporary abode: the four-bedroom Potomac home of Frank Silvestro, 61, a semi-retired financial consultant, and his wife, Marcia, 60, a teacher. "I couldn't have asked for two better strangers to have in my house," said Frank Silvestro, referring to Norwood and his nephew Greg Norwood, 35.
On Thursday, Bruce Norwood strolled to a bus stop, headed to work in uniform: a green polo shirt with a Giant logo, khaki pants and black sneakers. He greeted neighbors as if they were old friends.
"That's beautiful," he said to one, spotting a 1931 Ford in the man's garage.
As much as he likes his surroundings, though, he said he looks forward to returning to New Orleans someday. It's only natural, he said, adding:
"There's no place like home."