Texas Looks to Relocate Katrina Evacuees

Having taken in more than 200,000 people in the past few days, Texas Gov. Rick Perry says the state can't accept any more evacuees. Perry is organizing an airlift to take people to other states. Some evacuees moved from the Superdome in New Orleans to the Houston Astrodome will be moved again, this time to cruise ships in Galveston.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

The steady flow of hurricane evacuees to Texas has stopped, at least for now. Texas Governor Rick Perry has worked to shift evacuees to other states. Texas had been the primary host for those displaced from the New Orleans area. About 250,000 people arrived in shelters, homes and churches there. NPR's Howard Berkes joins us from just outside the biggest Texas shelter, the Astrodome in Houston.

Howard, thanks for being with us.

HOWARD BERKES reporting:

Thank you.

BLOCK: And this morning we were hearing about plans to move the evacuees who are already in the Astrodome and other big shelters onto cruise ships. There was also talk of airlifting new arrivals to other states. What's happened with those plans?

BERKES: Well, you know, that airlift was supposed to begin last night but it didn't. It's not clear why it didn't, but it is clear that Texas Governor Rick Perry got somebody's attention at the federal level because, as you noted, the planes and the buses from Louisiana were directed elsewhere instead of coming here last night and today.

Perry suggested that some Texas shelters were getting close to capacity and that that would threaten the quality of care and the quality of life for people in those shelters already. This whole airlift idea is now in the hands of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It's not clear what's going to happen with it now. For the moment it appears unnecessary. And as for those cruise ships that you mentioned, that's an idea, not a plan, according to the governor's office. Officials here are starting to think ahead to the time when people are going to grow tired of being in places like the Astrodome where they have food, they can take showers, they have air-conditioning, they have cots. But they don't have privacy and there's little to do. The thinking is that the cruise ships may be better places for temporary housing and there's also an effort to move as many as 18,000 people into homes and apartments by giving them housing vouchers.

BLOCK: Now I understand this issue of where the evacuees should be sent came up today in a news conference there?

BERKES: Yes, yes.

BLOCK: And, as I understand it, the Reverend Jesse Jackson suggested that it might not be a good idea to send evacuees far from Louisiana, far from their homes where they might not have access to reconstruction jobs or family and friends. Let's listen to a bit of what Reverend Jackson said.

Reverend JESSE JACKSON: The people who live there should have the first option on the jobs to be built where they have lived. If they are in Idaho or they're in Utah, they're too far away to get those jobs. It's a long ways from home, from where they have lived, where they have acculturated, where their loved ones are--lost, living or dead. When they come out of the point, the moment of trauma, the distance will become a problem.

BLOCK: Now, Howard, you live in Salt Lake City, Utah. What can you tell us about the place where these evacuees would be sent?

BERKES: Well, it's not--nothing like New Orleans. It's dry and brown instead of green and humid. It's desert, it's mountainous, it's cold and snowy in the winter. Two of the evacuee centers are pretty remote, not only from Louisiana--they're about 1,700 miles away--but also from stores, from neighborhoods, from theaters. One of the centers is 40 miles or so from the nearest town. It's at an isolated Army base out in the desert where there are probably more wild horses and antelope than people. But so far the people who have arrived in Utah, they're grateful to be there. They're grateful for the hospitality, for the food and the security. At least temporarily they seem happy.

BLOCK: Howard, there are still thousands of evacuees, thousands--many thousands of evacuees in the Astrodome and other shelters in Texas. What are they telling you about how they're doing and what their concerns might be about being sent someplace else?

BERKES: You know, some of the people I've talked to, they say they feel so welcome and so well-cared-for here that they want to stay. And I've been told by a local county official here that the climbing price of oil makes the economy here more healthy. There are going to be more jobs, given the role of the energy business here. Some jobs are posted on the message board in the Astrodome right now. Some people do want to go home, even if there isn't much of a home to go home to. Some people say the thing they want to do the most is go back to Louisiana.

BLOCK: NPR's Howard Berkes speaking with us from just outside the Astrodome in Houston, Texas. Howard, thanks very much.

BERKES: You're welcome.

BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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