Evacuee Transfer to Cruise Ships Delayed

Texas officials have postponed plans to move 4,000 hurricane evacuees from the Houston Astrodome to two luxury cruise ships in Galveston. Officials at the Astrodome say many of the people there are not ready to move again while their families are still divided.

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Texas officials have delayed plans to move 4,000 hurricane evacuees from the Houston Astrodome to two luxury cruise ships off Galveston. As NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports, there were no immediate takers.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO reporting:

Responding to the disaster, the Carnival Cruise Line had donated two of its luxury ships, the Ecstasy and the Sensation. Officials thought living on board would be a six-month solution to get hurricane survivors out of the crowded Astrodome complex.

Unidentified Woman: Yeah, we're trying to find out where the medical...

DEL BARCO: But though they may have no idea where they'll live now that their homes are destroyed, folks like 24-year-old Arisha Lewis(ph) says a cruise ship is the last place she wants to be with her two small children.

Ms. ARISHA LEWIS: Oh, no, I don't want to see any more water. I'm not getting on a cruise ship, no way. I don't know who came up with that idea. No way. Don't put me on a boat or nothing, living on a boat for five days--living, you know, in water for five days, no way. I don't want to see water; I want land.

DEL BARCO: The idea had been to begin transporting 4,000 survivors, starting with the oldest, those are 60 years old and up, and medically sound. Next would be single parents with children younger than four and so on. Incident commander Joe Leonard said they had hoped to provide private beds and bathrooms on the ships, an alternative to sleeping with 5,000 people on the Astrodome floor.

Mr. JOE LEONARD (Incident Commander): There is no urgency to put them on ships. The insurgency is to get them out of the Dome. How many of you have ever slept on cots or on the floor? OK. How many of you have slept on beds? What's more comfortable, a bed or a cot?

DEL BARCO: Leonard says he'd rather place the evacuees in permanent housing, and officials around the country are now working to find apartments, mobile homes and public housing for those who lost everything.

Mr. LEONARD: Putting them on a cruise ship in a private room, with a bed, with a bathroom, is better than the facilities they have out there now. They're going to get world-class food on board the ship. It's not a perfect solution; it's just one option of many.

DEL BARCO: Volunteer doctors say many of the hurricane survivors are now suffering from acute stress; some feel numbed and overwhelmed. But fear of water is just one issue, says Dr. Stewart Udovsky(ph), who's been treating the evacuees' mental health.

Dr. STEWART UDOVSKY: Right now their lives have been full of change. They've had to leave where they've resided for years, they've come to a place which is comfortable and stable and safe and before making any decisions about the future, they want to have as much information as they can.

DEL BARCO: Evacuee Gilda Terry(ph) has no idea what to do next. She worries that her mother is still missing and that her children are scattered in shelters around the country. Terry says she used to love gardening in her New Orleans home, and she hopes the survivors are well tended to.

Ms. GILDA TERRY (Evacuee): When you uproot a plant, or you move it from one bed to another bed, you make preparations. You go to the store, you buy topsoil, you buy Miracle-Gro, you buy all the nourishments that's going to cause that plant to grow. And then if you don't do that and you just stick it in the ground, it may stand up straight again and then sometimes it often dies.

DEL BARCO: Gilda Terry says before she leaves the Astrodome, she wants to make sure she and her family have a real place to put down new roots. Mandalit del Barco, NPR News, Houston, Texas.

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