Life In The Astrodome: One Family's Story

It's crowded — but at this point, anything is better than New Orleans.

HOUSTON — Meet Tamara Green. She's 28, she has seven kids, and they're living in the Reliant Center, one of several buildings around the Houston Astrodome that are now functioning as shelters. They're sharing space with some 2,000 other people, which makes for crowded conditions — but at this point, anything is better than New Orleans, particularly the New Orleans Superdome.

"It was chaos there, complete chaos," Green said. "Everybody was panicking, there wasn't enough food, and people didn't know where their families were."

The Green family — Anthony (12), Tre'von (10), Tyrana (8), Rashad (7), Kayla (5), Dontanay (3), and Donell (1) — was lucky, she said, because they all just "hung on" to each other, with older children clutching younger children so they didn't get separated (see "In Houston, Survivors Search Desperately For Family Members"). "It was hard, because we have small kids. The little ones, it's hard to keep them in one spot when they're used to running around," she said. "I'm glad we made it. A lot of people didn't."

The Green family has each other — but that's about it. Green says she lost everything, even her shoes, and the experience has been quite a "reality check."

"I'm thinking like a homeless person," she said. "I don't know where the next meal is coming from or where we're going to live. It's hard. This is how you feel when you're homeless — and I feel terrible. I used to pass by homeless people on the streets."

Even though the Astrodome is relatively safe, it's far from perfect. Because of the rampant rapes and violence in the Superdome, Green has learned to keep her family together in an area they've carved out for themselves, along with her boyfriend, Myriaun Clark. "I have to watch my children," she said. "I've never been in jail, and these are things I'm not used to — like rapists. This is hard. This is reality."

Some of the extra security comes at a price: Police officers are ever-present, even when you shower — that is, if you can get through the lines for the showers. If not, volunteers are handing out donated "bathing kits," essentially wipes that don't require running water. "It's good enough," Green said. "It ain't nothing like the real thing, a real towel and soap, but these are the types of things you're dealing with in this situation.

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Tamara's day starts at eight in the morning, when she wakes up the kids to stand in the breakfast line. "It's a hustle to get food," she said, explaining that survivors aren't allowed to eat in the cot aisles, so they must stand "in a long line with thousands of people" to "feed up." In the Astrodome, you have the option of two hot meals a day, but the food is basically military rations, she said, "something I wouldn't recommend for children of their age." Still, volunteers pass out water, soda, sandwiches and snacks through the aisles, so if you can't get up, at least there's something.

Most of the day is spent waiting to see what the volunteers distribute, she said. "We basically sit and wait, see what these people are going to do for us," she said, noting that she's incredibly grateful for what they bring, whether it's coloring books to keep her kids occupied or boxes of personal hygiene products. If the volunteers don't bring what you're looking for, there are lines for just about everything. "Everything is here," she said. "You just have to get up and go get it."

By the end of the day, Tamara takes the kids with her to the showers, with Clark's help. She's taking everything one day at a time for now, but she knows her next steps are finding a job and a home. They plan to stay in Houston, because this is "a city of love," they say.

"How we living?" she asks her kids.

They answer in unison, "We're surviving."

On Saturday, be sure to watch "MTV News Special: After the Storm," which premieres at 7:30 p.m. ET. And immediately after, stay tuned for "ReAct Now: Music & Relief," MTV, VH1 and CMT's Hurricane Katrina benefit concert special. The show will run from 8-11 p.m. ET and will feature Usher, Green Day, Kanye West, Alicia Keys, Ludacris, the Rolling Stones, David Banner and many more.

To find out what you can do to help provide relief to victims of Katrina, head to think MTV's hurricane relief page.