Phs Grads Have Close Encounter With Katrina

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Nina Ray called upon on a mother's love to buoy her during what she calls one of the toughest ordeals of her life.

Ray's anguish began Aug. 29 after Hurricane Katrina plowed into the Gulf Coast states, sparking one of the worst disasters in the nation's history.

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Rikki Ray

Since Katrina made landfall, the Payson mother has spent her waking hours tracking the safety of her two children -- Southeastern Louisiana University students Rikki and Rachel Ray.

Because SLU's campus is located in Hammond, La., just north of New Orleans, the two Payson High School graduates and most other SLU students were among those caught up in the death and devastation of Katrina.

For days, Nina's contact with her daughters was limited to very short calls from pay phones.

"Their cells didn't work and most of the land lines were out," Nina said. "When I could talk to them, they were the ones who had to call and it was never for very long."

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Rachel Ray

At midweek -- as Nina frantically tried to find a way to wrestle her daughters from Katrina's grip -- she tearfully admitted the strain and worries were taking their toll.

"We are in a quandary. We know there is no electricity, no food, no stores open, the temperature inside their townhouse is 90 degrees and if they can find gas it's 20 miles away," she said. "We do know they have water, it had just been delivered (before the storm)."

Nina breathed her first sigh of relief Thursday morning after she was finally able find a way to evacuate both Rikki and Rachel from the chaos caused by the hurricane.

The two are scheduled to board an airliner in Baton Rouge today, make a short stop in Houston, and then fly to Phoenix, where Nina and the girls' father, Ron, will meet them.

Nina said she's now more at ease knowing her daughters will soon escape Katrina's rampage, but won't rest easy until she finally embraces the pair at Sky Harbor International Airport.

The sisters move to Hammond from the Rim Country has its origins in the summer of 2003 -- only months after Rachel graduated from Payson High School.

As a star pitcher on the Lady Longhorn softball team, Rachel originally planned to continue her athletic career at Paradise Valley Community College.

She, however, accepted a late scholarship offer from SLU, saying the opportunity to participate in NCAA Division I softball was too enticing to pass up.

Upon accepting the scholarship, Rachel said she knew almost nothing about Hammond, but was looking forward to becoming a part of the community.

After a so-so freshman year, Rachel molded herself into a rock-solid pitcher last season for the Lady Lions. She earned spots on the Southland Conference's "Pitching Honor Roll" and became SLU's ace reliever.

This summer in Payson, Rachel said she was looking forward to returning to SLU for her junior year and resuming her pitching career.

Rachel's plans included rooming off campus with her sister Rikki, a 2005 PHS graduate.

With Rachel and Rikki on their way home, Nina said she is grateful for the support shown the family in its time of need.

"I want to thank all our friends in Payson for their prayers and everything done for us," she said. "The support has been overwhelming."

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