- The Washington Times - Friday, September 2, 2005

Baton Rouge, La., is straining to house an influx of refugees after Hurricane Katrina battered the Gulf Coast and flooding forced the evacuation of New Orleans.

“There are a lot of people wanting to rent, because they are not sure what they will be doing. But we have no [more] rentals,” said Brandy Farris, a Century 21 broker in Baton Rouge.

So people desperate for housing, at least those with enough money, are buying up real estate in the closest big city to New Orleans.

“I probably sold 40 houses yesterday,” Ms. Farris said. “Every home in Baton Rouge is going to have a contract on it in 90 days.”

People able to escape New Orleans are fanning out across the Deep South, looking for a place to stay, a way to earn some money and perhaps a place to restart their lives.

Ivor van Heerden, deputy director of Louisiana State University’s hurricane center in Baton Rouge, said there were at least 800,000 refugees from the storm, about half in and around the state capital.

Other nearby cities also are seeing a surge of suddenly homeless.

“Most of them have no place to go,” Brenda Lee, director of South Baldwin United Way, which includes Mobile, Ala., told the Associated Press. “The people most affected are from outside, but they’re going to be coming here and they need our help. We’re going to have an influx of people looking for jobs, looking for housing.”

Angela Cain, chief executive of the Mississippi Association of Realtors, said the Department of Homeland Security had contacted her and other state groups to help identify temporary quarters for refugees.

“People are calling [real estate agents] and looking for space. We have people here [in Jackson] knocking door to door asking about homes to rent, how to sign up children in school,” she said.

Real estate agents across Mississippi are looking for commercial buildings that could be quickly converted into housing units, parking lots where mobile homes can be set up, school dorms and just about any other available option, she said.

Some people are reportedly buying housing, but computer systems in Jackson were not working well, so she could not check real estate sales records to verify the anecdotal reports.

Even in Memphis, Tenn., about 400 miles from New Orleans, refugees are arriving — as of Thursday about 270 had registered to look for work or collect unemployment benefits at the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, said Milissa Reierson, the department’s communications director.

“We don’t really know what to expect. We will help everyone as much as we can,” she said.

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