Haraz N. Ghanbari  /  AP
Nurse Melanie Perkins tends to Alysa Blackwell on Sept. 7 at Women's Hospital in Baton Rouge, La. Blackwell was born eight weeks premature and is now 18 days old. She was one of more than 200 babies evacuated from New Orleans' hospitals and brought to Women's Hospital.
updated 9/8/2005 7:45:30 PM ET 2005-09-08T23:45:30

Barren Snell lies in the quiet hospital ward, a tiny spark of life burning brightly despite his perilous beginning.

Born two months early, Barren was still hospitalized when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. He and 120 other infants in the city’s hospitals were evacuated through floodwaters and around downed trees and power lines to the neonatal intensive care unit at Woman’s Hospital in Baton Rouge.

Along the way, Barren was separated from his mother.

“They were patients, and the patients were evacuated,” said Jodi Conachen, public relations manager for the hospital. “Their mothers weren’t patients, so they were separated.”

Reuniting the babies with their families kept social worker Susan Eaton and others busy this week. Names and phone numbers for the parents were in the babies’ medical records, but the numbers were in New Orleans, where phone service was long gone.

“In many cases the parents called us once they got where they were going,” Eaton said. “As the moms got settled, they started searching.”

One by one moms and dads — some of whom had fled as far away as Utah — were matched with the babies.

All except Barren.

'Truly safe now'
His mother, Talissa Snell, 25, his father, and all three of his siblings remain missing. But officials finally located his aunt, Donna Smith, in Galveston, Texas, where she and her family had evacuated.

“The oldest daughter was with her father,” a tearful Smith said. “My sister and the other children were going to ride out the storm in New Orleans. We haven’t heard from her since.”

Smith is trying to gain custody of Barren so she can take him once he is ready to leave the hospital. The 3-month-old baby, who has been fed through a tube since birth, is learning to suck on a nipple so he can nurse from a bottle and be discharged.

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“Finding him was a miracle,” Smith said. “I’m just praying for one more miracle. I hope I can find my sister and the rest of her family.”

The babies began arriving at the Baton Rouge hospital last week as floodwaters rose in New Orleans. Dr. Steven Spedale, chief of neonatology, said they came by ambulance, car and helicopter. “They came every way except boat,” he said.

Armed guards sometimes accompanied the convoys because of shootings in the city.

As their families wait for them, the babies lie in tiny beds. Pink paper cutouts in the shape of the hurricane, complete with the eye, swirl above them. They read: “We weathered the storm, Hurricane Katrina, 2005.”

“All they have to do is lie there and grow,” said nurse Melanie Perkins. “We feed them, love them, take care of them. They are truly safe now.”

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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