Katrina Evacuees Face Shelter Closures

As President Bush's deadline nears for efforts to move Katrina victims from shelters, residents of one shelter in Baton Rouge, La., that is closing Friday are coping with their housing troubles.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The Red Cross is trying to meet President Bush's goal of moving hurricane evacuees out of emergency shelters by the middle of this month. Today one shelter in Louisiana is closing. Some people are moving into trailer homes or other housing. But as NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports, others don't know where they're going.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO reporting:

Merlin Encalade(ph) was among the final survivors to sleep on a cot at the Red Cross shelter at Baton Rouge's River Center. He's been shuttled from one shelter to the next since being flooded out of New Orleans.

Mr. MERLIN ENCALADE: I come from Arkansas first, then to Houston and then down here. They're playing chess with me. I'm checkmate now.

DEL BARCO: Checkmate because Baton Rouge officials say they need their convention center back. They've already lost a hundred thousand dollars in revenues. Red Cross spokeswoman Alisa Feldman.

Ms. ALISA FELDMAN (Red Cross): They want to have it back and have their concerts and the ballet back here. It supports Red Cross' mission to move our residents into the next transition of recovery, getting them to longer-term housing and more stability.

DEL BARCO: The question is: Where do the evacuees go now?

Ms. GLENDA DELAY(ph): I'm going to South Carolina by my daughter. I'm not going to another shelter. I am not. No more shelters.

DEL BARCO: Glenda Delay, her 16-year-old son and four nieces evacuated their home in New Orleans to face the chaotic Superdome, then shelters in Tennessee and now this one. She says earlier this week a promised apartment fell through, so they're hoping to move in with her daughter.

Ms. DELAY: I mean, a lot of churches have gotten together up here in South Carolina, and they're adopting families and they're helping you find houses, and they're furnishing the houses and everything.

DEL BARCO: FEMA has pledged to pay rent for storm victims for up to 18 months. The agency has placed more than 600,000 evacuees in hotel rooms or cruise ships. And these past few days some are moving into a new vacation trailer park in Baker, 10 miles north of Baton Rouge.

Mr. MIKE McCORMICK (FEMA): Our main challenge right now is finding places to put them. You can't plug a trailer in a tree and call it home.

DEL BARCO: FEMA spokesman Mike McCormick says it's taken until now to work through the logistics.

Mr. McCORMICK: We need an appropriate site, not in a floodplain, someplace that is in conformity with local regulations.

DEL BARCO: At the River Center shelter, 45-year-old Cheryl Ann Anderson(ph) was anxious to move into the FEMA trailer park, though she hadn't heard any specifics.

Ms. CHERYL ANN ANDERSON: Not sure where I'm going, but it'll be better than where I've been. We ran from Katrina, got caught in Rita, so--and we'll stay here; this is just our place to rest.

Unidentified Man: David Martin, Bruce Lanier(ph), Cheryl Anderson.

Ms. ANDERSON: That's my trailer! Oh, man, I got me a trailer!

DEL BARCO: Most of those who remained at the shelters are some of the most vulnerable: elderly people, mentally ill, disabled. Dolores Vicnair(ph) uses a wheelchair and is left caring for her husband, who is disabled, too. One of her sons is schizophrenic; the other has a brain tumor.

Ms. DOLORES VICNAIR: They're not even talking about putting us back in our area. That's where all our doctors is at and everything. They just want to ship you here and there and everywhere and forget about you. I will be forced into putting all my stuff in my pickup truck and going back to La Place anyway, whether we got a place to live or not.

DEL BARCO: Where will you sleep?

Ms. VICNAIR: My son's got a little bit of money. He said, `Mama, there's only one thing for us to do--is go to Wal-Mart and buy us a tent and set it up in my yard.'

DEL BARCO: Other hurricane survivors hope to return to homes in New Orleans, though some areas are still uninhabitable and could take months or years to rebuild. Mandalit del Barco, NPR News, New Orleans.

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