HOUSTON — If the marriage was made in heaven, it was made legal in the Astrodome.
The concrete-floored stadium, which has sheltered as many as 17,000 hurricane evacuees in the last two weeks, became a chapel. Red Cross workers and fellow evacuees were the bride and groom’s new-found family and friends.
Rebecca Warren and Joseph Smothers planned to marry in New Orleans on Sept. 9. Those plans fell apart in the wake of hurricane Katrina. Warren and Smothers were separated by the storm, reunited in Houston, and determined not to be apart again.
Walked down cot-lined aisle
With the help of volunteers who learned of their failed plans, the new nuptials came together quickly.
A donated dress, a wedding cake from a nearby bakery and enough cameras to convince anyone the bride and groom were famous faces.
There was one in the crowd. Boxing champ Evander Holyfield was making an appearance, and offered to give away the bride. He walked her down an aisle surrounded on each side by cots.
The wedding march played through speakers more accustomed to the sound of the National Anthem.
The old dome suddenly had new life. The decades-old billboard sparkled, as it flashed congratulations with the couple’s name in lights.
The event quickly caught the attention of almost everyone in the shelter. Children crawled between the legs of mom and dad, angling for a better view. By the time Rebecca and Joseph were introduced as Mr. and Mrs. Smothers, the crowd was in the hundreds.
Return to ritual
The ceremony was sealed with a kiss, celebrated with bubbles instead of bubbly, and the applause equaled that following any home run in this former ballpark.
It was a magical moment for everyone. The wedding signaled a return to ritual.
Most of all, it was a reason to celebrate — in a time when there have been so few.
Janet Shamlian is an NBC News Correspondent covering hurricane Katrina evacuees in Houston.