Thousands of Hurricane Katrina refugees are packed into Houston-area hotels and shelters this afternoon, displaced from their homes across Louisiana by the huge storm that made landfall earlier today. They’ll make due with cots and hotel beds for the next few days until they can head back to survey the damage.
It’s not a luxury hotel, but for Antonio Shaw and 13 members of his family, a Red Cross shelter in Baytown looks just fine after a 16 hour drive from their home just west of New Orleans. They’ll have green cots to sleep on and plenty of food as they wait-out Katrina and hope for the best. “Before we left, they did tell us that when we come back, we may not come back to nothing, so right now we’re just praying that we have something to come back to,” says Shaw.
The Red Cross’ Tim Reid is busy directing traffic at the shelter, the Baytown Community Center, one of a handful of shelters set-up along the way from Louisiana. One large room is dark and lined with cots where a few people are sleeping. Another room is stocked with food and drink. “We’re just trying to take good care of them,” he says. “We’ve got a television set-up in the other room so they can be watching the news to see if they can catch any reports from back at the house.”
The news isn’t so good for James White and his family. He’s from St. Bernard Parish northeast of New Orleans and says he might not have much to go back to when he returns home. “I’m a fisherman and a few of my friends were on their boats. They said the water came up 10 feet within 20 minutes and our house and everything down there is gone. It’s bad,” he says.
Inside a Holiday Inn along the Baytown East Freeway, busy clerks like Dorothy Jarone answer phones and help customers, in some cases turning people away because the hotel is full and will be for days to come. “I just tell them that I’ll be patient with you if you be patient with me,” she says as she checks in another traveler. “That’s all I can say to them. We do the best we can with rates and everthing and some of them are having a hard time.”
Edwin Hobbs and his 83-year-old mother drove from their home about 25 miles northeast of New Orleans, a home that sits in an area that was hammered when Katrina made landfall. “The effect of this tremendous hurricane is just on your mind all the time. I’m not sure whether I’ll have a house when I go back. I’m dealing with that. You deal with all those emotions,” he says.
Hotels across the Houston-area are at capacity, with many of the evacuees traveling all the way to San Antonio and Austin to find rooms .