Getting Refugees from New Orleans to Houston

Alex Chadwick speaks with Washington Post correspondent Sam Coates, reporting from Louisiana, about the difficulties storm refugees have encountered in getting out of New Orleans and into Houston. The city is nearly 350 miles away, but it's where major regional aid facilities have been set up.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

To the evacuation route now. Sam Coates of The Washington Post joins us from about 40 miles west of New Orleans on the first pit stop out of the city, the first place you can stop to get anything trying to get from New Orleans to Houston.

Sam, what are you seeing?

Mr. SAM COATES (The Washington Post): Well, for the last three days, this Chevron station has seen so many people, the first place that they've been able to stop when fleeing New Orleans. Now New Orleans is a place where you can't get gas, where there's no electricity, where there's no clean water. Here in the Chevron stop, which is about 40 miles west, it has been the first place that many people have found all of those things. At some point up to kind of 250 people packed into this kind of small serving station at once. Sandwiches are sold out within, you know, a couple of hours of being delivered. Large swathes of the shelves are empty. So, you know, this place has provided a lifeline for many, many people.

CHADWICK: Do they have water there for people to drink, and maybe as importantly, do they have bathrooms?

Mr. COATES: Well, water--I'm actually standing next to the water counter now as we speak, and no. They did yesterday, but they don't today. They have all the beer you can drink, but here they've just got a few bottles of Mountain Dew and Dr Pepper.

As for the bathrooms, yes, they're small, but they are bathrooms. There are two police officers standing outside. I'm not sure whether they're stationed here or just on a pit stop, but certainly with all the reports of violence around, that's a reassurance for those here.

CHADWICK: Are there people there who have come from the Superdome?

Mr. COATES: No. Basically, those people are coming ...(unintelligible) back here, as it were, because they go from the Superdome, they get on the buses provided by the state and federal authorities, and then they're driven straightaway. And this doesn't appear, from what I can see, to be one of their pits stops. You know, those buses will be filled with gas and won't need to stop so soon after New Orleans unlike--you know, there are people who I've encountered on the road with kind of two miles' worth of gas left in their tank, and this is--you know, those sorts of people for whom this has been--people leaving the city unilaterally.

CHADWICK: When you talk to people there at this place, what do they tell you about their circumstances? Why were they still in the city?

Mr. COATES: It varies and it's--you know, and there are some really quite heart-rendering tales. One woman I spoke to was in hospital. She'd had a minor procedure and eventually, the hospital, you know, asked her if she and another woman would mind discharging themselves to make way for more serious cases.

A lot of people here seem to have spent some time in the hotels, like in the French Quarter and sort of elsewhere downtown. Several of the people I met were kind of only being evacuated by the hotels on Wednesday morning. Kind of fascinating--I talked to one guy and asked him--who was in charge--he was a manager, I think, at one of those big hotels--and asked him, `Why on Earth didn't you evacuate before?' And he said, `Well, you know, they were saying to evacuate, but the only time we thought they were being really insistent was last night,' referring to Tuesday night. Some of us might think that they sounded pretty insistent since about Friday or Saturday, but you know, that's beside the matter.

CHADWICK: Do you hear any reports about this lawlessness?

Mr. COATES: Yes. In fact, I talked to a couple of people who had been to a shop that had been broken into. They had only come to get water and Gatorade and kind of essentials which, you know, some might say was understandable. But they said that even on Tuesday morning, there were people, you know, who were going straight for the alcohol cabinets. You know, there was one woman in this convenience store with a bottle of vodka and she'd drunk most of it and she was sitting--or better, lying on the floor and saying, `This isn't my favorite type of vodka' to anyone who would listen, which is--you know, Tuesday morning, that's pretty astonishing stuff.

CHADWICK: Sam Coates of The Washington Post on I-10, the route out of New Orleans.

Sam, thank you.

Mr. COATES: Thank you.

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