On the fifth day of the Hurricane Katrina crisis, Irma Plummer appealed to a higher authority.

Thousands of refugees -- broke, filthy, desperate and exhausted -- have fled New Orleans and landed on the doorstep of her city, 70 miles west of New Orleans. City shelters are overflowing, city services are dangerously strained and everyone is beginning to realize that nothing in this city will ever be the same again.

And still the refugees keep coming and coming and coming.

At a morning briefing of emergency officials yesterday, Plummer, the assistant chief administrative officer for the Parish of East Baton Rouge, called for a moment of prayer. The two dozen people in the city's emergency operations headquarter -- the police chief, doctors, emergency directors, politicians, sanitation chiefs, Red Cross officials -- stood up from their computers and telephones and joined hands.

"There is strength and unity in the presence of God," Plummer prayed.

"Right now, we pray for your patience, your mercy and your grace," she said. Her voice rose in a powerful cadence as pagers buzzed and the television behind her beamed more pictures of the destruction that was sending so many refugees into her city.

Plummer broke into tears.

"I don't even know what to ask for, Lord," she said. "I don't even know what will beset us today."

-- Jacqueline L. Salmon