Evacuees arriving at Astrodome

Houston stadium expects 25,000 from New Orleans

Katrina's Wake

September 02, 2005|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

HOUSTON - The first wave of an expected 25,000 evacuees from Hurricane Katrina arrived at the Astrodome yesterday in yellow school buses, luxury tour coaches and their own battered and muddied vehicles.

The refugees had originally sought sanctuary at the Louisiana Superdome, now rendered uninhabitable by unsanitary conditions, oppressive heat, a leaky roof, violence and a shortage of food and water.

Because it is only about 350 miles from New Orleans, Houston has become evacuation central, with the relief effort straining public and private resources.

The 40-year-old Astrodome is poised to become a mammoth homeless shelter for Katrina victims, possibly as many as 25,000.

By late afternoon, about 2,000 people were inside the facility, receiving medical care, food, clothes, and cots for sleeping.

The planned bus convoy from the Superdome was slowed by the chaos and violence that have enveloped much of New Orleans.

Evacuees at the Astrodome told of people elbowing each other for seats on the first few buses. One bus was commandeered by evacuees and driven here. Another driver told of being afraid to stop for people attempting to flag him down lest they hijack the bus.

Some buses stopped to pick up children walking aimlessly, with no parents in sight.

At the Astrodome, Harris County officials set up a clinic, checking evacuees for signs of hepatitis and tetanus, both conditions linked to dirty water and lack of sanitation. Fifty people were taken to hospitals.

Arrivals also were frisked for weapons and drugs. Two guns were seized, officials said.

A phone bank was installed to allow evacuees to try to call relatives. Showers once used by pampered million-dollar athletes are now being used by people fleeing the Katrina disaster.

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