Before Katrina hit the Gulf Coast on Sunday, August 28, Debbie said she hadn't paid much attention to the warnings and didn't want to evacuate without the family's pets. "I never once dreamed ... I just thought it would be a little wind and rain and then it would just blow over."
The family had lived in the three-bedroom house on Arts Street for 13 years. Melissa Harold, the grandmother, moved in several years ago after Debbie's husband died. They lived with three dogs, a cat, a guinea pig, a gerbil, six hamsters and a parakeet.
"My mom told us we weren't leaving because wherever we went, we couldn't bring our animals with us," said Tiffany, who wants to be a veterinarian and mourned leaving behind the pets, including those buried in the back yard.
Trapped inside the darkened, stifling hot attic of her flooded home in New Orleans with her two teenage daughters, Debbie Este watched her own mother die as they waited for help she thought would never come.
For three days they waited, sweating and stripped nearly naked because of the 110 degree heat, with no food and running out of water. The rising water reached the attic and threatened the survival of anyone inside the yellow-sided, single-story house.
During half the time they were trapped, the body of Debbie's mom, Melissa Harold, 68, who didn't make it through the ordeal, lay lifeless on the attic floor.
Debbie, who is 47 and uses a wheelchair, had carried her painkillers -- 60 Loratab 10s -- into the attic. And she asked the girls to swallow the pills with her to end the suffering.
"She kept on saying, come on and take 'em," said Tiffany, who marked her 16th birthday in the Baton Rouge River Center shelter on Monday. "I just kept telling her we were going to be saved, but really, I didn't know."
Amanda swayed her mother from suicide by talking about her future.
"I said I want to finish school and have a job and have kids and have a husband," Amanda said.
"She was miraculous. I couldn't believe it," Debbie said of her younger daughter. "I was so proud of her. She just screamed like that for hours and hours. Her and Tiffany kept saying we weren't going to die up here."
Tiffany doesn't remember much else, having slept most of the time, even though her mom regularly woke her up, afraid she had died. "After my grandma died, I just went to sleep. She thought I'd died, but I was just sleeping."
Soon, the drinking water was gone. By Wednesday, the same water they had to urinate in started filling up the attic. They inched farther and farther back.
Then, Debbie Este heard a voice from outside. Her brother, Aldo Harold, 50, had arrived by boat with some friends. Debbie had last talked to him by phone briefly three days earlier when the water started coming in to his house about a mile away.
"I thought I was dreaming," Debbie said. "I heard my brother hollering 'Debbie!' and I don't think I've screamed so hard in my life, I said 'We're here!'"
Tiffany, awakened by her mother's screams, realized they were going to stay alive. "My uncle just kept saying he was going to get us out."
In about five minutes, using an ax, Aldo chopped through the black shingles and wood of the roof so the three of them and two dogs could be pulled into the boat.
Two of their dogs survived the flood, a shitzu named Matt and lab mix named Princess, but they couldn't bring the dogs out of the city and had to leave them behind.