In the chaos that was Causeway Boulevard, this group of refugees stood out: a 6-year-old boy walking down the road, holding a 5-month-old, surrounded by five toddlers who followed him around as if he were their leader.
They were holding hands. Three of the children were about 2, and one was wearing only diapers. A 3-year-old girl, who wore colorful barrettes on the ends of her braids, had her 14-month-old brother in tow. The 6-year-old spoke for all of them, and he told rescuers his name was Deamonte Love.
Thousands of human stories have flown past relief workers in the last week, but few have touched them as much as the seven children who were found wandering together Thursday at an evacuation point in downtown New Orleans.
In the Baton Rouge headquarters of the rescue operation, paramedics tried to coax their names out of them; nurses who examined them stayed up that night, brooding.
Transporting the children alone was "the hardest thing I've ever done in my life, knowing that their parents are either dead" or that they had been abandoned, said Pat Coveney, a Houston emergency medical technician who put them into the back of his ambulance and drove them out of New Orleans.