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Last Updated: Thursday September 15 2005 08:04 GMT

One girl's escape story from Hurricane Katrina

Ariane talks to her brother Saul about their experiences
Imagine having to leave your home with just a few minutes' warning, with a hurricane blasting around your ears and being up to your waist in flood water.

That's what happened to 10-year-old Ariane when Hurricane Katrina hit her family home in New Orleans.

Clare Youell reports for CBBC Newsround.

Ariane is a brave little girl.

She's been through more upheaval in the last three weeks than a lot of kids go through in a lifetime.

She's lost her home and most of her possessions, stayed in an emergency refugee shelter and moved halfway across the world to escape the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina - one of the worst natural disasters ever to hit America.

But, she insists, she's taken it all pretty much in her stride.

"It was scary at times but we are actually fine," she told us. "We were really lucky."

Much of New Orleans is underwater
And yet her story is, at times, quite chilling.

'Sky got darker'

Ariane first heard about Katrina on the news. She's already lived through two hurricanes, but it soon became clear that this was something they had never experienced before.

Ariane lived in New Orleans with her mum, dad, her brother Saul, eight, and her two sisters, Talia, six and Renata, five. When her family realised the city was being evacuated because Katrina was heading their way, they threw some things in their bags and set off in their car. Unfortunately, the roads were jammed.

"We did a third of a mile in an hour," she told us. "My parents said 'this is even more dangerous, we'd be safer in our house,' so we went back home.

"We started boarding up our house and making sure everything was tied up so it wouldn't be flying around.

"Then we just sat and waited for the hurricane to come."

'Scary'

Her family holed themselves up in a little room in the middle of their house, keeping away from all windows and walls. They sat there all day, listening to the hurricane howling around them.

Tens of thousands of people were rescued by helicopter

"It just got darker and darker and the wind got faster and faster. We could see the wind actually picking up waves of water and trees and everything. Our neighbours' tree snapped in half.

"To watch it happening was two-fold. It was scary because it was like 'is anything going to hit us or is anything dangerous going to happen?'. But also it was really cool just to see what nature does, just to see what things were flying around."

Their power failed in the middle of the night, so Ariane's mum got out the candles.

Poodle

The next morning the family looked out of the windows to see the flooding had started. At this stage it was only up to the front step of their house, but it was slowly rising. The family car was ruined so they drained the oil from it and used it to power a generator so they had electricity.

But then a neighbour, who had also chosen to stay behind, dropped by. He'd heard on the news that the levies - the raised banks of earth which keep the river in place around the city - had burst and huge torrents of water were coming their way!

Ariane's family, and two neighbours - one of whom was accompanied by a giant poodle - decided to make a quick getaway in an old truck.

Ariane with her sister Talia, and a photo of the floods outside their home

"My parents had to carry us on their backs because the water was rising before our eyes, it was up to my parents' hips," Ariane said.

"We had to fit eight people, 15 bags, and a big poodle, in a five-seater truck. We were all hoping, hoping that the truck didn't stall in the water. It was pitch black."

Missed school

First stop was the town of Baton Rouge, where they stayed overnight in a special shelter set up for the hurricane refugees.

By this time, the family knew they wouldn't be allowed to go back home for a long time. They had to make plans for the future. Ariane and her siblings had only just gone back to school and they were going to miss out on a lot of lessons.

But Ariane's mum is English and the family decided to go to London, where their grandparents live.

"I didn't mind coming here at all," Ariane said. "I wanted to see how it was here, and I wanted to see my grandparents."

'Lucky'

Now Ariane and her family will be in London for at least two months, and all the children have just started school. Bizarrely it's the same school their mum went to when she was a little girl!

Ariane with her siblings, Saul (left), Talia and Renata

Obviously the other pupils were curious about their American visitors and asked them lots of questions, but Ariane said she didn't mind. She said she knew people would be curious about them and the hurricane.

Later this year, the family is moving to Chicago and setting up a new home there.

But Ariane is determined to make the best of a bad experience.

"I am pleased to be back at school, I like it here," she told us. "The whole thing has certainly been a bit different!

"But I am OK. We are all just really, really lucky."




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