The band of survivors has barbecue grills and charcoal, requisitioned from a nearby supermarket, and medicine stolen from the post office. It has a foosball table and a basketball hoop for the children and magazines and brandy for the adults, who work together, striving for something like order and decency.

"We feed the kids first. We use the pool water to flush the toilets," said Edward Thomas Jr., known to everyone as Sarge, for his Marine Corps rank when he served in Iraq. "We are just trying to make things livable."

A battered motel in New Orleans's eastern reaches is the post-hurricane home to more than 50 souls who fled the high water. Strangers to one another before Hurricane Katrina hit on Aug. 29, they have become compatriots in a rugged new world. Hundreds of thousands of residents have abandoned the broken city because of the mandatory evacuation order or because they had no better option, but the people in this group want to stay.

Their attitude, shared by others similarly squatting in hotels up and down the road, is an indicator of a coming conundrum for authorities who believe New Orleans must be vacated while the cleanup gets underway. Relief workers, while not forcing anyone to go, are warning stragglers that they will be on their own if they stay.

The people at the Family Inns of America proved their determination on the sixth brutal day after the storm, when the first relief reached their Crusoe's Island, a gritty stretch of industrial sprawl along Chef Menteur Highway. A Wisconsin National Guard helicopter in camouflage paint dropped into the tall weeds near the highway. Two dozen people raced forward as a guardsman in fatigues tossed out boxes of water and packaged meals.

He shouted above the roaring rotors, "If anyone wants to leave, we're taking them now!"

There it was, right in front of their eyes, a ticket out of the soggy city.

One man accepted the offer.

"Where are we supposed to go when we've got nothing?" asked Bobbie Delaune, 32, the group's unregistered nurse. "Why would we go to where there's more chaos, where you have nothing?"

The residents have organized themselves to endure the hot days and fend off the dangers of the nights. And they were eager to explain their reasoning to the first visitors they have had since they converged on the two-story complex that was abandoned to the storm.

"They want to evacuate everybody. That's the wrong thing to do," said Thomas, who maintained that jobless New Orleans residents need work and the government and private sector will need huge numbers of laborers. "People are going to take a hell of a lot more interest if they're cleaning up something that matters to them."

Thomas has other reasons to stay, notably his unwillingness to leave behind a $2,000 computer and other possessions. Rescue workers, as they moved through the city, permit refugees to climb aboard a helicopter, troop transport or bus with a small bag, at most. He vowed to stay "till the end" but acknowledged that supplies will need to be replenished if they are to endure.

With no stores open -- and with everyone having limited cash -- that would mean finding a source of provisions. Good Samaritans have brought the children a breakfast of pancakes and sausage every morning. It is a start, but the residents recognize they need more.

In daylight, they foraged at broken-open stores, bringing back cartons of toilet paper, bags of charcoal, salt and pepper, bottles of bleach for the pool water. But Delaune pointed up another hole in the strategy. Like some of the others, she depends on a monthly check from the federal government. "If I can get to an open Social Security office, I'm straight," she said. If not, and the nearest open office is 60 miles away, money is definitely a problem.

Others, camped out on the salvaged second floor of the motel, made the calculation that the existence they are carving out of the chaos is better than anything they would find in San Antonio, Houston or Little Rock.

"I'm going to stay until it's over," said David Washington, taking a break in the shade as boys shot hoops below. "I've made it this far. They done did everything they could do."

Sharon Truly thinks life isn't all that bad at the motel, where she has lived for nearly two years. She has another reason to stay: She and her husband will not abandon their 21 birds -- from macaws to sun conures, cockatiels and lovebirds. "These are my babies," she said, as a glorious macaw named Dallas perched on her forearm. "I knew they wouldn't let them on the truck, so I'm staying."

Like her birds of a feather, Truly said, "All of us are sticking together."

Donald Delaune is among about 50 flood victims living at the Family Inns of America in New Orleans.