- The Washington Times - Friday, September 2, 2005

HOUSTON (AP) — Thousands of Hurricane Katrina refugees arrived yesterday at the Astrodome weary from days in the wretched conditions at New Orleans’ Superdome, happy to get a shower, a hot meal and a cool place to sleep.

An estimated 23,000 people were expected to arrive by bus from the Superdome, but only about 4,000 had arrived early last night. About 80 buses had arrived with more expected in a steady stream overnight.

Hungry and tired, the first refugees to arrive ate scrambled eggs, biscuits and orange juice for breakfast, and then passed out on cots to get some much-needed rest. Evacuees showered in one of four locker rooms once used by the Houston Astros and the Houston Oilers.

Audree Lee, 37, felt relief after getting a shower and hearing her teenage daughter’s voice on the telephone for the first time since the storm. Miss Lee had relatives take her daughter to Alabama so she would be safe.

“I just cried. She cried. We cried together,” Miss Lee said. “She asked me about her dog. They wouldn’t let me take her dog with me. … I know the dog is gone now.”

In New Orleans, meanwhile, weary refugees stood in line, wading through ankle-deep water to board the buses that would deliver them from the horrendous conditions of the Superdome.

After a traffic jam kept buses from arriving at the Superdome for nearly four hours, a near-riot broke out in the scramble to get on the buses that finally appeared.

Pets were not allowed on the bus, and when a police officer confiscated a little boy’s dog, the child cried hysterically: “Snowball, Snowball.”

The indoor stadium was offered as emergency shelter for New Orleans residents before Katrina came ashore Monday. But then flooding knocked out the city’s water and sewage system, stranding thousands in a nightmare of dangerously unsanitary conditions.

The crowd at the Superdome yesterday swelled from 20,000 to 30,000. City officials said residents were pouring into the facility because they thought it was the best place to get a ride out of town.

After a day in line in the heat without water or food, dozens of people passed out while waiting to board the buses. Medics poured water on them, fanned them and tried to cool them.

In Houston, organizers spent the past two days setting up cots that covered the Astrodome’s floor. They provided phones and a message board so refugees could contact loved ones, and gathered supplies such as bottled water, soap, toothbrushes and diapers.

Thirty deputies working on overtime provided security and searched refugees for weapons. A few people were arrested, although Sheriff Tommy Thomas didn’t have an exact count. He said some men were arrested for going into the female showers. Others were arrested for fighting over cots.

Doctors and nurses set up a clinic to help people with high blood pressure, diabetes and other health problems. Ambulances waited in the parking lots for those needing hospital care, said Dr. Herminia Palacio, a Harris County public health official.

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