Airlifts May Ease Evacuee Burden on Texas

At least 250,000 hurricane survivors have landed in Texas, and many are still coming. Plans are now under way for an airlift to move some of the new evacuees to other states. Michigan, Iowa and West Virginia have volunteered to help.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

More than a quarter of a million evacuees have made their way to Texas for shelter and safety. They're staying in hotels and motels and churches and more than 130 shelters across the state from El Paso to Houston's Astrodome. Yesterday the Texas governor, Rick Perry, ordered emergency officials to carry out an airlift to take some of the evacuees to other states that have offered help. With us now from Houston is NPR's Howard Berkes.

Howard, has this new airlift begun and who's coordinating it?

HOWARD BERKES reporting:

It hasn't begun yet, at least as far as we know. It was supposed to last night but for some unexplained reason it didn't take place. It's being coordinated by the Texas National Guard and essentially the way it will work is it involves people who are still coming to Texas, not those that are already here. They're still coming to Texas. They'll be checked for medical issues, they'll be fed, they'll be clothed, they'll be made comfortable, and then they'll be put on commercial aircraft and perhaps some military aircraft, but American, Continental and Southwest Airlines have all agreed to take these new evacuees to other states.

CHADWICK: So where are they going?

BERKES: Well, three states so far have committed to taking them: Michigan, Iowa and West Virginia. But Governor Rick Perry is on the phone talking to governors in other states, as well, saying, `We need your help. You need to step up, and take the burden of some of these people who need to be housed.'

CHADWICK: When the governor talks about this burden, how big a burden is it for Texas? How are they doing?

BERKES: What the governor--the way the governor characterizes it is that they're nearing capacity. They're not at capacity of the state's ability of individual communities' abilities to handle these people. Right now they have these 200-plus thousand people in these massive shelters like the Astrodome, as well as some of them are in hotels and some are in churches. And they're being taken care of and the governor says what he's worried about is compromising that ability to take care of them well by accepting people that will simply overwhelm the existing system's ability to take care of them. So he's trying to come up with ways to get other states to pitch in. He's also talking to the Federal Emergency Management Agency about bringing in cruise ships, not only to Galveston nearby, but also to Beaumont and Corpus Christi and may perhaps more some of the people who are in the big shelters like the Astrodome onto cruise ships.

CHADWICK: Howard, have you had a chance to talk to any of these evacuees? I wonder how they're holding up?

BERKES: I have spoken with evacuees and many of them are just so thrilled to be out of the Superdome and out of the Convention Center in New Orleans, they're fed, they're clothed, they can take showers. One man said to me, `I can go out and take a shower any time I want.' He was very excited about that. And some of them are beginning to think about the future, about getting into apartments, about perhaps getting jobs and staying here. And a few still are thinking about going back to Louisiana. Some, by the way, are still looking for lost loved ones. Their stories are heart-wrenching, and that heart-wrenching part of this continues to go on here.

CHADWICK: NPR's Howard Berkes from Houston, Texas. Howard, thank you.

BERKES: You're welcome, Alex.

CHADWICK: NPR correspondents in the field continue to report on the rescue and recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. You'll find their latest dispatches at npr.org.

And more just ahead on Katrina and the nomination of John Roberts as chief justice on the Supreme Court. Stay with us on DAY TO DAY.

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