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I’ve been in New Orleans only twice. Once was nearly thirty years ago, on a church bus. We drove through part of the French Quarter on a hot July morning but didn’t stop. It looked pretty dismal.

Then I flew out of the New Orleans airport a few years ago. July, again. I was traveling with friends to a writers’ conference out west, and it was a lot cheaper to drive to New Orleans and catch a red-eye flight there than to fly out of Atlanta. We spent the night with my friend Maureen’s parents, who live on the inland side of Lake Pontchartrain. Their hearts were warm and hospitable. Jerry and Judy made blackened shrimp on the grill and served Chardonnay. I’ve never had such good shrimp before or since.

For some reason, our alarm didn’t go off at three a.m. like it was supposed to, but somebody—Lindi, I think—woke up without it and hollered. We grabbed our suitcases and raced outside, into the humid pre-dawn hours. Helter-skelter, we were off to the airport. We made our flight, enjoyed the conference, and enjoyed Jerry and Judy’s hospitality again on our return trip.

They’re staying up here with Maureen today, safe from Katrina but worried that their home and its contents won’t survive the floods. There’s never enough time to salvage everything during an evacuation. I hope they were able to grab whatever was most important to them. Mostly, though, I’m glad Jerry and Judy are safe. You can replace most belongings, but you can’t replace people.

This hurricane has devastated thousands of homes, not just in New Orleans but all along the Gulf. The numbers we’re seeing on TV aren’t just statistics. They represent people who need prayers and help.

The Salvation Army is at work on the aftermath of Katrina. If you’d like to donate, here’s the link:

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