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Sunday, September 4, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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LSU athlete provides refuge for Fats Domino

The Washington Post

BATON ROUGE, La. — New Orleans music legend Antoine "Fats" Domino survived Hurricane Katrina, but he's still unsure, he says, about how he will cope with its aftermath.

Domino spent three nights sleeping on a couch in the two-bedroom, Baton Rouge apartment of Louisiana State University starting quarterback JaMarcus Russell, a distant family friend.

Domino left the apartment Friday with his wife, Rosemary, two daughters and a son-in-law. He had no idea where he would go next, he said.

"We've lost everything," said Domino, 77. "I don't know what we're going to do. I never wanted to leave."

Domino, who helped fortify the New Orleans music scene in the 1950s with hit singles such as "Blueberry Hill" and "Ain't That a Shame," waited until the last minute to evacuate the city.

His agent, Al Embry, called Domino on Sunday at his home in the low-lying Ninth Ward and begged him to flee.

"Antoine said he had a boat and a generator if he needed it," Embry said. "He told me he wasn't going to leave New Orleans and that I should wait and pray for him. I hung up the phone and started to cry. I honestly never thought I'd talk to him again."

The water rose nearly 20 feet at Domino's house Monday, chasing the family to a third-floor deck. It was from there that Domino hailed an emergency boat, which took the family to the edge of the city. Rescue workers transported Domino to a Baton Rouge shelter, where he spent two hours before Russell picked him up.

"It was God's will. That's all I know," Domino said. "I'm worried about all the people in New Orleans. Tell them I love them and I wish I was home with them. I hope we'll see them soon."

Domino didn't contact anybody in the three days after the hurricane. Embry reported him missing. He set up a Web site that received more than 500 e-mails. Domino's daughter, Karen Domino White, put up a missing notice on craigslist.com.

Little did the family know that Russell, who said he had met Domino once before through a girlfriend, had welcomed Domino and his family into an apartment already crowded with more than 15 people.

"Fats just stayed at my apartment, rested, watched the news," the sophomore quarterback said. "I've had people sleeping on the floor, the couch, everywhere. It's been pretty crazy."

Domino, wearing a blue-striped shirt and a gold necklace, sat in the passenger seat of a car about to leave Russell's apartment Friday. He felt perfectly healthy, he said, and his family had escaped.

"We'll be OK," Domino said. "But I really wish I was in New Orleans."

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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