Young Katrina Victim Captured in Iconic Image Now Settled in Houston

She was photographed holding the hand of elderly neighbor "Mama Nita."

Aug. 27, 2010 — -- Tanisha Belvin is thriving in Houston. The 10-year-old is getting good grades and making lots of friends -- but she has not forgotten August 2005.

"I do remember. When I go to sleep, I dream about it. It's like an open book when I see all the people talking and screaming about they children," she said.

Tanisha was 5 years old when she was photographed outside of the New Orleans Convention Center five days after Hurricane Katrina hit the city. She was holding the hand of neighbor Nita LaGarde, 89, whom she called "Mama Nita."

The two -- LaGarde sitting in a wheelchair, her white hand clasping Tanisha's black hand -- were photographed Sept. 3 by the Associated Press in an image that was published on front pages across the nation.

LaGarde and Tanisha instantly became a symbol of the disaster.

'The Water Just Gushed In'

LaGarde had been living alone next door to Tanisha and her grandmother Earnestine Dangerfield, then 60, in a Ninth Ward duplex. The two women had been neighbors for 20 years. Dangerfield had cared for LaGarde for years.

"I opened the door and the water just gushed in," said Dangerfield. "So I throwed Tanisha over the fence and I had to get two guys to get Mama Nita but the water had gotten up to our shoulders."

Friends carried LaGarde through high water to a neighbor's two-story house. As the waters rose, the trio and others moved from the attic to the roof. After a few hours, neighbors in a canoe transported them to a bridge. For two days, they lived there. Dangerfield built a bed in the back of a truck for LaGarde while she and Tanisha slept on the ground. They scavenged for food.

When rescuers arrived, Dangerfield had to get LaGarde, who couldn't walk, to the end of the bridge.

"They had a floating ice chest in the water and I put her in there and I drove her to the edge of the bridge. I pulled her with a rope and we got in another boat. Then we wound up at the convention center and that was terrible. We did without food a couple of days," Dangerfield said.

'We're Going to Get on That Plane'

Soon helicopters came to remove some of the stranded residents at the convention center.

"I put Mama Nita on that wheelchair and I said, 'We're going to get on that plane if it kills me and I just broke out in front of everybody. I said, 'Tanisha, hold Mama Nita's hand' because the people were rushing, pushing. And the guard grabbed me and said 'Miss' and I said, 'Because she's about to die here and I'm not about to let her die because she's in my care.' He said, 'Everybody, step back. Step back. Let them through.' And I was so happy," Dangerfield said.

Dangerfield, Tanisha and LaGarde made it to Houston, 350 miles away, where they received medical treatment and then a spot at the makeshift shelter at the Reliant Center.

"A guy and another lady came by. He says, 'This lady here looks like my grandmother.' And I said, 'Well who are you?' And he says, 'My name is Sean Penn.' ... He was the first person to donate us some money and I'll never forget that," Dangerfield said.

She, Tanisha and LaGarde eventually settled into a home in Houston that was donated by a retired couple.

Dangerfield said she'd rather be in New Orleans, her home. "I lost everything so I'm here now. ... Well, this is where maybe the Lord wanted me to be so I feel like I might could stay."

Until last year, when LaGarde died of cancer, the three lived under the same roof in Houston.

"It hurts sometimes. She's only been gone a year," Dangerfield said. "Katrina anniversary coming up and she's on my mind. I get depressed sometimes."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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