Rachal Watson is 19 years old and nine months pregnant. Her 1-year-old daughter is missing. So is her boyfriend. She paces the floor of a Houston motel, far from her former home in New Orleans, rubbing her belly while her worries run wild. She is one of thousands upon thousands looking for the ones they love in any way they can.
"I just can't take it no more," she says in a high-pitched wail. "I really can't. I have no momma and no daddy. That's the only family I have."
Her posting, on the Web's National Next of Kin Registry : "I am safe in Houston hotel looking for baby girl."
In the wreckage of Katrina, not much works, especially the phones. So desperate families try to reach the missing through television or the Internet.
Most pleas on the Web begin the same: "Where are you?" The only difference is the number of question marks.
Eleanor Sawyer of New Orleans writes, "I am staying at the Hirsch Coliseum in Shreveport, Louisiana and I looking for my son Darrell Sawyer ..."
On another site, Patty Hein looks for her sister and brother-in-law, from Long Beach, Miss. "Any info about where they lived, if it's intact, any word, we are so worried," she wrote.
On the Web site of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children , photographs have been posted of 20 Louisiana children whose parents are missing.
Some are toddlers. Others are teenagers. Most are in between _ 8, 9, 10 years old. The youngest grin at the camera. The teenagers try hard not to look scared. The kids in the middle just look bewildered.
Liz Bartholomew, who lives in a small town about 50 miles north of Anchorage, Alaska, has been searching the Web to find her half brother, Hayward Smith, who lives outside Gulfport, Miss. They weren't close, and she weeps admitting that.
"He's old and he has prostate cancer and he's got dementia," she said. "He lives by himself in that trailer." She has called and called, but the circuits are too busy to get through. He has three grown daughters who live nearby, but Bartholomew doesn't know their married names. She has another brother in Bay St. Louis on the destroyed Mississippi shoreline, but he can't get out of the area to check on Smith.
"It's horrifying," she sobbed. "Just horrifying."
On national television, relatives stand in front of the Houston Astrodome and other evacuation sites, holding cardboard signs bearing names of the missing and phone numbers for them to call.
Others look directly into camera lenses and beg for information, or try to give it.
"Your mother and daddy are headed for the convention center," said Bettie Perrier of New Orleans, as she headed for a bus, trailing tears of frustration. "We don't know what we'll do there."
Trina Sutton, looking angry and frantic, stood outside the Astrodome and recited her phone number on CNN. She was separated from her two children, Marice and Deverenisha, as they were being evacuated. She has no idea where they are. "No one can't tell me nothing," she said.
After a week, Angie Holman in Jacksonville, Fla., had given up hope. Four family members in the New Orleans area, including one who is blind and diabetic, hadn't been heard from. Hamon had registered their names on every Web site she could find. She monitored television news broadcasting, searching the background for faces she recognized.
"I would just be looking to see if I could see someone who belonged to me," she said. "It's just the not knowing and not being able to do anything. We were helpless. We all just wanted to get in the car and go, or get on a plane and fly down there. But where would we go? What would we do? How would we look for them?"
On Monday, just before midnight, the Red Cross called Holman's grandmother.
"They're all accounted for. They're in some kind of shelter in Lafayette, La. They're all together," Holman said Tuesday, her voice breaking in relief and exhaustion. "We haven't been able to speak with them, but they're OK. They lost everything, but they got out with their lives."
And then there is Rachal Watson, who thought things couldn't get much worse than having to live in the Louisiana Superdome without power or food or water. She dove under a National Guard truck when people in the surging crowd outside shot at rescue helicopters. "I was so scared I forgot I was pregnant," she said. "I landed on my stomach, like a baseball slide."
Not long after, she started having contractions. She was taken by ambulance to New Orleans' airport. "The wouldn't let my baby or my boyfriend on the ambulance. They said I had to get on by myself."
She hasn't seen either one of them since. And she hasn't given birth.
As Tuesday wore on, she got a little bit of news about her boyfriend. There was a James Green, born in 1988, registered by the Red Cross at a San Antonio shelter. Babies weren't being registered by name, she was told.
The charity that flew her to Houston, the Paul Alan Caldwell Foundation, is sending someone to walk through the shelter, looking for James Green.
"I know it's him," she said, though Green is a common name. "I know it's him."
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