The telephone started ringing the Friday before Hurricane Katrina blew into the Gulf Coast and hasn't stopped since.
Kevin Taylor answered and found his mother, Elaine, on the other end of the line. Things looked bad for New Orleans, she said, and she asked if she could ride out the storm at his place. Then his aunt Cleo called, wanting to do the same with her children. After that, his cousin Adrielyn called, asking to bring her six kids. Within a week, 45 people were hunkered down in Kevin and Roxanne Taylor's small three-bedroom house.
"It was a lot," said Kevin Taylor, 39, who works as a crane operator.
The Taylors' relatives are among the 220,000 evacuees living in and around East Baton Rouge Parish. Many of them are living with their extended families. Air mattresses and sleeping bags are jammed into kitchens, living rooms, hallways and bedrooms. Air conditioners are straining to keep pace with the 95-degree bayou heat, and water is running constantly from showers, washing machines and flushed toilets.
Families throughout the Gulf Coast region have been crucial in helping to relieve some the burden of housing evacuees from the Red Cross and church shelters, but now many are buckling under the weight of their good deeds.
Some families -- many of whom had little to begin with -- are hosting as many as 50 relatives and beginning to feel the financial strain, relief workers said. Those strains were only made worse in recent days, as Hurricane Rita added more water to already-soaked New Orleans, meaning it will take even longer for the city to be drained.
At first, the Taylor family sang together and watched movies on the DVD player. But then, days became weeks with no end in sight. "Tempers flare. Some people start cracking jokes. At a time like this, joking's sometimes good, sometimes not," said Cleo Taylor, 46.
There is more trouble on the horizon as some of the first utility bills since Katrina are coming. The bill for electricity and water, due in early October, is likely to be in the thousands. "Gonna be high," Kevin Taylor said.
"We're going to get help from family, maybe. But I'm going to try and do it myself," he said. "They've got enough on their minds right now." The homes of his mother, aunt and cousin were underwater.
"I've been calling everywhere -- Red Cross, FEMA" in search of financial help with the light bill, Roxanne Taylor said. "They say, 'You're doing this out of the kindness of your heart. There is no help for that.' " A spokesman for the local electric company, Entergy, said the company does not know whether energy use in the Baton Rouge area has spiked since Katrina. But spokesman Morgan Stewart said: "We will certainly work with customers. We want them to share their situations with us."
Stewart said the state is issuing money toward that end to relief agencies, through the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. He said the Bush administration recently allocated $25 million for storm victims.
Barbara Walker, 47, of New Orleans sat in the lobby of Catholic Community Services of Baton Rouge waiting for her number to be called.
Hundreds surrounded her as she sought financial relief for her brother, Earl Peters, 50, and his wife, Clemontine, 59. The couple put up 35 relatives and friends during Katrina at their three-bedroom house in Baker, outside Baton Rouge.
Peters, who drives a sweeper at a warehouse, said he felt an obligation to house his family members, one of whom was rescued from her roof in New Orleans, and another, Rhonda Southall, who was rushed to the hospital after a seizure.
"I had to do my best to try to house them," he said. He opened a toolshed for the boys to sleep in. The girls were kept close to the two bathrooms.
When the storm subsided and the power was out, Peters said, he thought his family members would be there for a few days. It's been more than three weeks.
They all knew the utility costs for laundering clothes and washing dishes, among other things, would be overwhelming. "That's why we're here today, to help them with their bill," Walker said.
At the end of her wait, there was bad news. "They say they're giving assistance to anybody who shelters family, but they have to come in person," she said.
Roxanne Taylor saw several children off to school, then rubbed her tired eyes.
"We thought it would be three days or something," Roxanne said. "We never thought it would be this long. But it's okay."
"Don't lie," aunt Cleo said.
"We don't mind," Roxanne insisted. "We wanted them to be safe. And we were ready. But we had a little extra people than we thought. Whew, we had extra."