Amid the cots, canines and cats that cluttered a sound stage Monday at Celtic Media Centre, Sondra Honore's family stood out.
Their green turtle, Zeus, was perhaps the most unique pet among the thousands of people and animals who lodged Sunday night and into Monday at a movie production facility that has held the likes of Tom Cruise and Jessica Alba shooting blockbusters. She laughed at the way people reacted to Zeus crawling along her cot if only to keep from crying about floods that destroyed the home she bought in 2012 after scrimping for years.
Honore was one of 4,857 people staying in shelters Monday in Baton Rouge, the Department of Children and Family Services counted. More than 30 shelters have been set up over the region but the largest on Monday in Baton Rouge were at Celtic, the Baton Rouge River Center and Southern University.
Those staying at the shelters said they were amazed at the kindness of the strangers who showed up in droves with blankets, snacks, games, animal crates and cheery attitudes. As Honore and her family recounted the story of multiple houses and cars flooding, volunteers brought them peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, dog treats, water, Powerade and board games within the span of half an hour.
"They gave me baby food!" said Honore's four-year-old granddaughter, Mariah, who was supposed to start Pre-K on Friday but never got to show off her new uniforms at Parkview Elementary.
Honore explained how her garden home off Old Hammond Highway was a longtime dream for her. She saved up money for years when she needed Section 8 vouchers to live in apartments and eventually a rental home until she could afford to buy her own house. She announced in 2012 that she no longer needed government subsidies and she bought her own home with three bedrooms and a fireplace.
"That was the best day of my life," she said about when she finally got the keys to the house on Hammond Manor Drive. "It was always my goal to buy a house. And I finally bought one. Only to lose it like this."
The house started flooding on Saturday, and she and her family hopped in a truck to head toward her sister's house. On the way there, water started filling up inside the car. They slipped little Mariah out of the back window and into the bed of the truck, calling 9-1-1 for help with nobody able to come to their aid.
They eventually got out of the truck, with water rising up, and jumped into a higher SUV and headed toward Honore's sister's house. They could not stay there long, with floods entering her area on Sunday. That's when the Honore family made the decision to go to the shelter at Celtic.
Honore's future home, transportation and livelihood are all uncertain. She said she does not have flood insurance. Both Honore and her daughter, Cierra, are both bus drivers for the East Baton Rouge Parish schools and their buses flooded as well.
"I'm going to stay here as long as I need to; I really have nowhere else to go," Honore said.
Glenda Jones also stayed on a cot nearby Honore with her family members and five cats. She said she slept like a baby on her cot despite being surrounded by hundreds of others and their animals.
Jones did not have time to grab shoes before the floodwaters entered her home just south of Florida Boulevard on North Holly Street. She was barefoot at shelter, and said her many medications at her house also were lost in the water. But she was upbeat as she played with a Yorkie named Kylie.
"I just thank the Lord that we're all safe," Jones said, gesturing to the hundreds of others on cots around her. "This is just a miracle right here."
By Monday afternoon, at one point lines of people looking for shelter snaked around the Baton Rouge River Center. It housed 197 people on Sunday night, but the number swelled to 1,000 by late Monday afternoon.
The Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry also opened a mini-animal shelter outside the River Center after shelters in the region that accommodated evacuees with pets were reaching capacity. The self-contained shelter there can hold up to 58 animals, Commissioner Mike Strain said.
The vets staffing the shelter can also provide medical care if needed, he said.
"What we learned during Hurricane Katrina is that people won't leave without their pets," Strain said. "This is all being done to keep owners in the close proximity of their pets."
Some were frustrated by having to be in shelters. Vladimir McClarty said he was rescued by boat from a relative's home off Greenwell Springs Road, then got a ride to the River Center shelter, where he stayed Sunday night.
He said he lost everything, including three bulldogs that he raised and became "like family."
“Baton Rouge should have been more prepared for this after what happened in New Orleans,” McClarty said. “I expect more from my city.”
Further north, at a shelter that’s been set up at the Felton G. Clark Activity Center at Southern University, members of the university’s girls soccer team were playing on a grassy area outside with children who are staying at the shelter.
Mike Hathaway of Baker sat on a lawn chair outside of the Southern University shelter Monday morning, watching the comings and goings of residents and deliveries of donations.
He had been driven away from his flooded, first-floor apartment on Saturday by National Guardsmen, first to a shelter in Baker, then after that site flooded, to Southern University.
“Everything’s gone and here I sit,” he said. “But what else are you going to do?”
Staff Writer Terry L. Jones also contributed to this report.