Evacuees at Astrodome Start Search for Homes, Work

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Evacuees from the hurricane who are staying at Houston's Astrodome are looking for new homes and registering kids for school. A job fair was also held.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

The world's first domed stadium is now the largest shelter for evacuees from Hurricane Katrina. Inside the Houston Astrodome, thousands of people are sorting through a maze of emergency relief services. And as NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports, many are still searching for loved ones, as well as new homes, schools and jobs.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO reporting:

The Astrodome is not quite as crowded as it was. Thousands of evacuees have begun moving out to hotels or apartments. Some are finding relatives to live with. Houston-based Continental Airlines announced free flights to evacuees who want to relocate to other US cities. But there are still nearly 9,000 people in the Astrodome complex trying to adjust to new lives. To help them start, volunteers have set up a makeshift beauty salon and barbershop in the Astrodome.

(Soundbite of electric clippers)

DEL BARCO: Forty-one-year-old Keith Anderson, who was a juvenile probation officer in New Orleans, got his first haircut since weathering the storm.

Mr. KEITH ANDERSON: I feel, honestly, like a million dollars. I mean, this is the greatest thing. You know, you have a lot of people here that's been displaced from their homes, and just a nice fresh haircut from a very good professional, it's one of the first steps of normalcy. And most of us need to feel normal again.

DEL BARCO: Other signs of normalcy: Survivors are getting their mail delivered here; they're getting new ID cards; and this morning children began registering for local schools.

Unidentified Woman: I want to introduce you to your principal. Your principal came all the way down 'cause he's...

Mr. LAWRENCE ALLEN: How you doing? Lawrence Allen is my name.

ERIC LEWIS(ph): Eric Lewis.

Mr. ALLEN: Eric, it's a pleasure to meet you, sir. And welcome to Jones High School, and I'll see you all tomorrow.

LEWIS: OK.

DEL BARCO: Tonya Brown(ph) says she doesn't know whether her family will stay in Houston, but getting her three children registered was a priority.

Ms. TONYA BROWN: We didn't think they were going to be able to get back in school. And my children are honor roll students, and school was a big concern for me. And I don't want them to be behind, and I didn't want them to have to lag. So this is--I'm real grateful.

DEL BARCO: There are still long lines of people trying to register for FEMA assistance and housing. Some folks will be getting debit cards with their financial assistance. Today a job fair in downtown Houston is offering employment in the area, and the Carnival Cruise Line is still offering 4,000 people temporary housing on two luxury cruise lines. Louise Duncan decided she's going to take them up on the offer. Meanwhile, in the Astrodome parking lot, she's going from one agency to the next looking for help.

Ms. LOUISE DUNCAN: We got a whole shopping cart full of pillows and blankets, yeah. So we're going to sign up to go on the boat. And a lot of people didn't want to go. That's OK. I'm ready to go. At least I'll have some privacy.

DEL BARCO: What has it been like for you guys in there?

Ms. DUNCAN: Well, it's been OK because we haven't been, you know--we've had lights, we've had water, we've been able to eat, we've been able to bathe. But there's too many people walking all night. So other than that, it's been--they've treated us really well. But I just need to do this for my children.

DEL BARCO: Duncan says the Houston Astrodome is a welcome relief to the horror that was the Superdome in New Orleans. But getting up-to-date information is still confusing. To help them out, evacuees have formed a Survivors Leadership Group to advocate on their own behalf. And activists are planning to start a low-powered radio station inside the Astrodome. They say they have 10,000 radios to hand out today, and they'll be on the air tomorrow. Mandalit del Barco, NPR News, Houston.

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