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'Right now, Minnesota is our home'

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Troilynn Baxter and Dominick Ballard plan to make Minnesota their permanent home. (MPR Photo/Lorna Benson)
Thousands of Minnesotans are opening their wallets, their pantries and even their homes to people displaced by Hurricane Katrina. In many cases it's family ties that have brought victims north. But in others, it's simply a much-needed offer of help from someone they've never met.

St. Paul, Minn. — Troilynn Baxter and her fiance, Dominick Ballard, weren't sure rescuers would find them in their flooded New Orleans apartment, so they tied white shirts to wooden canes and waved them out the windows. Five days later a National Guard helicopter spotted them and air-lifted the couple to a nearby airport.

There, Baxter says they waited in a seemingly endless line of suffering people for 12 hours until they were able to catch a flight out of Louisiana.

"We were flown to San Antonio and then we were brought to Houston, Texas," says Baxter. "So we was being brought from point A to point B to point C, just waiting for hours and hours and hours."

Baxter thought her situation would improve once she got to Houston. But she says the chaos and suffering followed her.

"And so when we were in the Astrodome we seen the sign say 'voluntary transportation to Minnesota' and I was scared 'cause we didn't know anyone, but it was so many people, it was overcrowded, it was overwhelming, all the sickness, all the people crying and stuff and we thought, 'let's just do it, let's just go.'"

The free bus ride wasn't part of any organized government evacuation effort. The idea was the brainchild of a group called Mission From Minnesota. The hastily-formed relief organization chartered the bus to help storm victims take advantage of the numerous free housing offers coming out of Minnesota.

One of those offers came from Joan and John Boone, who live in Burnsville. "It was last Thursday when I was watching the footage on CNN and the different news channels and it's just like, 'My gosh somebody has to house those people, they just can't stay there like that,'" says Joan Boone. "And so I'm doing this new thing where I put my mind to something and just think about it for a long time and hope it comes true and so I kind of said a prayer and did that and I really wanted to house a family by monday evening. That was my goal."

At 30 minutes past midnight on Tuesday, Baxter and Ballard, arrived at Boone's door. Ballard says he's extremely grateful for the help. Still, he says it's a little strange moving into someone else's home.

"It feels awkward 'cause you know we're used to having our own and then it's like back at home you know, back with your mom and everything you know."

But Troilynn Baxter says the Boone's have been exceptionally nice. "You know they show they had open arms and open hearts. Very nice people," says Baxter. "And they just wanted to help, they just wanted us to get some rest and get some things off our minds."

Baxter says she's a little scared of Minnesota's cold weather. She says she's been shivering ever since she arrived. But even without permanent housing lined up or even jobs, Ballard says the couple has decided they are going to stay.

"Right now this is our home for years to come. We don't have no plans on moving elsewhere but to another apartment for just me and her, either an apartment or a house," says Ballard. "But right now it's just Minnesota is our home."

When asked why he made such a sudden decision to relocate Ballard said he needs to move forward with his life. "We have nothing to go back to," says Ballard. "I mean you know our foundation is gone. Now it's time to build another foundation."

That could take some time. But Boone says the couple shouldn't worry about getting their life sorted out overnight. "We didn't set a time limit. We just said as long as it takes for them to kind of get back on their feet, so if it's a month, if it's two months or if it's six months or whatever, that's fine," says Boone.

In the meantime, Boone says her phone has been ringing off the hook. Already she's fielded quite a few job leads for Baxter and Ballard.

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