Evacuees Spread Out in Texas

Houston was the first Texas city to take large numbers of evacuees from Hurricane Katrina. Now, as Larry Schooler of NPR station KUT tells Debbie Elliott, San Antonio has joined other cities in the state in providing shelter.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

Texas officials say they believe nearly a quarter of a million hurricane victims have moved to the state. The Houston Astrodome has run out of space for them, so thousands of survivors have been sent to San Antonio. Three shelters are open there and more are planned. Larry Schooler of member station KUT visited the main shelter at the former Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio and sent this report.

LARRY SCHOOLER reporting:

It may be crowded and chaotic, but to 48-year-old Teddy Griffin(ph) of New Orleans, his new home in San Antonio is fine.

Mr. TEDDY GRIFFIN: This is beautiful, sir. This is more organized, very much beautiful, decent, clothingwise, foodwise, bath, you know, much, much decent than where we was and where we came from.

SCHOOLER: Like many at this shelter, Griffin took a long, strange journey to get here. Evacuated to the Superdome, he then was put on a bus for the Astrodome in Houston. It was full. So he ended up here in a large room with hundreds of small cots, one next to the other.

(Soundbite of activity at shelter)

SCHOOLER: Down a long hallway and outside the building, refugees stand in long lines for showers set up within tents you'd ordinarily see at outdoor parties. Ilene Escovell(ph) is volunteering at the shower station.

Ms. ILENE ESCOVELL: No one seems to really know what's going on. We kind of just stumble upon stuff as it comes, so we're just trying to give these people something fresh to wear, even if it's PJ-like.

(Soundbite of activity at shelter)

SCHOOLER: The hallways here are always jammed. Only a few coordinators seem to know exactly where everything is, from the chapel, to the phone station, to the infirmary. Medical treatment remains a challenge.

Unidentified Woman #1: Can you sit yourself up a little bit?

Unidentified Woman #2: Can you sit up? Are you tired?

Unidentified Man #1: Yeah, I'm really tired.

Unidentified Woman #2: OK.

Unidentified Man #1: Is that some water? No, I don't--really want no water.

Unidentified Woman #1: You don't want no water?

Unidentified Man #1: No. I'd rather have some juice.

Unidentified Woman #2: Have you had something to eat?

SCHOOLER: In the middle of the main hallway, one refugee has collapsed. Volunteer medics did their best to treat him. Medical personnel here say they need to immunize everyone against hepatitis because of how much dirty water they've encountered over the past week.

Unidentified Woman #3: So if we can get the information center right here, we're going to be setting up a little area. I need help kind of troubleshooting and help with delegating people to the right areas.

Unidentified Man #2: Yeah.

Unidentified Woman #3: OK.

Unidentified Man #2: I'm ...(unintelligible) myself now, so...

Unidentified Woman #3: OK.

Unidentified Man #2: And so where would you like--want me to do?

Unidentified Woman #3: Well, if you can just stand right there.

Unidentified Man #2: OK.

Unidentified Woman #4: I'll be right with you ...(unintelligible).

Unidentified Woman #3: I'm trying.

Unidentified Woman #5: We need an MK(ph).

Unidentified Woman #3: OK.

SCHOOLER: One thing that's not hard to come by are volunteers. There are almost too many for the American Red Cross to handle. The Red Cross coordinator Keith Berger says that's not what worries him.

Mr. KEITH BERGER (Coordinator, American Red Cross): And that's my biggest concern is people have to realize that it's great to volunteer the first day, but this is a long haul and we need volunteers to support this program over the lifetime of this. And I think it's going to be two or three months.

SCHOOLER: That challenge is one of many faced by the Red Cross and other volunteer agencies. The Texas Workforce Commission is helping people process unemployment benefits and search for jobs. And since Governor Perry declared an emergency disaster in Texas, that makes the state eligible for some of the $10 billion Congress appropriated for Katrina relief.

For NPR News, I'm Larry Schooler in San Antonio.

ELLIOTT: And to wrap up the rescue and relief operations in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, thousands more victims were bused and airlifted out of New Orleans today. President Bush today announced that more than 7,000 active-duty military troops will arrive in the stricken Gulf region over the next three days. He's responding to harsh criticism as well over the federal government's initial response. The president acknowledged again that that response was not acceptable.

This is NPR News.

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