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Andrew Locke and Bob Sullivan

From Sept. 22-27, the posts in this blog about Rita's evacuation and devastation were reported and photographed by Bob Sullivan and Andrew Locke. Sullivan, 37, is MSNBC.com's technology and consumer fraud reporter. Locke, 34, in charge of MSNBC.com's editorial strategy, was on his second hurricane blog tour.

David Friedman and Miguel Llanos

From Sept. 18-22, the posts in this blog, examining Katrina's impact on the environment, were reported and photographed by Miguel Llanos and David Friedman. Llanos, 45, is MSNBC.com's environmental reporter. Photojournalist Friedman, 35, is a multimedia producer at MSNBC.com.

Kari Huus and Jim Seida

From Sept. 10-16, the posts in this blog were reported and photographed by Kari Huus and Jim Seida. Huus, 43, has been a journalist for 20 years and a reporter with MSNBC.com since 1996. Seida, 39, has been a media editor with the Web site since 1996.

Mike Brunker and Andrew Locke mugshot

From Sept. 2-9, the posts in this blog were reported and photographed by Mike Brunker, left, and Andrew Locke. A journalist for 25 years, Brunker, 49, is MSNBC.com's West Coast news editor. Locke, 34, has been a journalist for 17 years and is currently in charge of MSNBC.com's editorial media strategy.

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How to help the victims of Hurricane Rita

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Seeking solace and soap operas

Posted: Friday, September 23 at 11:09 pm CT by Bob Sullivan

HOUSTON -- A midnight curfew is looming, so families cart their dogs downstairs for one last walk. The barking makes the hotel entrance sound very much like a dog park on a sunny Saturday.

The worst of the storm is only a couple of hours away now, and people are hunkering down. Families bring their kids downstairs, too, for one last bit of fresh air. As night falls, the rains and wind arrive. Curious wind-watchers poke their heads out the front door, but they don't stray far.  Two 3-year-olds near the entrance make up a game, throwing paper in the air to see how far it flies back into the hotel. I wonder how my family, and how all our families, would find ways to stay happy the night before a storm.

Four weeks ago, playmates Sky Quirter and Jordan Wilbratte were playing together in New Orleans. Their lives were turned upside down by Katrina; their families evacuated, and their grandmothers landed at The Magnolia hotel, where the kids are also staying. Now, the kids are sitting through their second hurricane in a month, playing their way through the night.

These 3-year-olds have seen more bad weather than most people do in a lifetime. It's probably good they've found a game; and their best bout of luck is the fact that they are together in this hotel.
Their grandmothers, who are watching with ironic sad smiles, seem to be having a much harder time. What's it like to have one hurricane after another bear down on your family?

"I cried for three weeks, and I got migraines, and then when I heard Rita was coming here, I cried again," said Jackie Harris, Sky's grandmother, who's from Bridge City.

Barbara Buisson, Jordan's grandmother, said she just about lost it on Monday.

"I had strep throat and was going to the doctor, and I got lost four times. When I finally got to the doctor's office, I just broke down," she said. "But today I was able to laugh about this. At some point you have to."

At times like this, everyone does what they have to do.  Inside the hotel, The Magnolia bar is serving drinks, and the bar starts getting loud by 9 p.m. The noisy chatter, spiked with ample laughter, hints just a bit of the scene at the bar on the Titanic, or at least the way the bar appears in the movies.  But at least it's an alternative to all the pictures of wind-blown reporters on television. After all, not everyone wants to keep watching the storm. Kris Markey, a New Orleans resident we met earlier, wishes at least one channel would offer up her soap operas. "I've seen enough of all this," she said.

As sunset turns to black night in Houston, there is an odd mixture of drizzle and gusty winds that blow the drops sideways. But it comes in bands.  Earlier, when the rain let up, the sun peeked through, and there was a gorgeous bronze sunset, the wet streets painted with golden hues. There is often beauty, along with calm, before storms.

Still, some gusts make it obvious that a huge storm is coming. My vest almost blows off several times.  Now, at 9 p.m., the air is back to still, and nearly everyone is inside. Soon they'll follow hotel orders to fill their bathtubs -- 314 guest rooms, all at once, filling tubs with water they hope they don't need.

As the TV producers say, it would be wise to "goodnight" ourselves, so we have some energy tomorrow. But few in the hotel are ready to sleep. It's hard to go to bed at night when you don't know what you'll see in the morning.


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