By PAM EASTON and MATT CURRY, Associated Press Writers
After accepting more than 11,000 Hurricane Katrina evacuees, officials
said the Astrodome was full and at least temporarily halted the flow
of evacuees into the shelter Thursday night.
"We've actually reached capacity for the safety and comfort of the
people inside there," American Red Cross spokeswoman Dana Allen said
shortly before midnight. She said people were "packed pretty tight" on
the floor of the Astrodome.
Instead of sending arriving buses away to other shelters, however,
officials decided early Friday to process the refugees there and begin
housing people in the adjacent Reliant Center, where the Houston
Texans play football, said Houston press secretary Patrick Trahan.
It wasn't immediately clear if others would be housed at the
At least 20 buses were lined up in three directions outside the
Astrodome early Friday. Dozens of frustrated and angry people milled
about outside. They were handed bottles of cold water, baggies with
sandwiches -- for many it was their first cold water or food in days --
and greeted by Houston officials.
Before we left New Orleans they said everybody will be in the
Astrodome," said Patricia Profit, who stood outside one of the buses
while some of her relatives were inside the Astrodome. "'Don't panic,
don't worry, you'll still be with your family.' That's what they told
us. Now we can't be with our family."
Houston's fire marshal had made the decision that the stadium was
full, said police Sgt. Nathan McDuell.
"It would be unfortunate if we were to bring these individuals from a
desperate situation and create another desperate situation here,"
He later said the situation had been reassessed and more people could
"It's a very fluid situation and we have to deal with the situations
as they arrive," McDuell said. "Our main goal and main interest is to
make sure everybody is safe."
The total of 11,375 inside the Astrodome when the initial decision on
capacity was made was less than half the estimated 23,000 people who
were expected to arrive by bus from New Orleans in Houston, and even
that estimate is now being reconsidered in light of the more than ten
thousand additional citizens previously unaccounted for who arrived at
the SuperDome in New Orleans.
Those refugees who arrived earlier, weary from days in the sweltering,
miserable conditions at the Superdome, were happy to get a shower, a hot
meal and a cool place to sleep.
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.
"These bunks are going to be territorial. Somebody gets up and then
somebody's going to take their bunk," Thomas said.
Police officers also have confiscated 30 guns, most of which have been
voluntarily surrendered, McDuell said. He added, "they may have needed
these things in New Orleans, they won't need them here."
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
Polacio, a Harris County public health official.
"Many of them have been in situations in the Superdome where they have
been under quite a bit of duress, such as several days without
medication," she said.
Organizers spent the past two days setting up cots that covered the
Astrodome's cement 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.
Outside the Astrodome, trucks delivered sandwiches and paramedics
assessed new arrivals for health problems under tents in a makeshift
Evacuees, most who hadn't bathed since the hurricane hit Monday,
showered in one of four locker rooms once used by the Houston Astros
and the Houston Oilers. Those teams now play in new stadiums, one
within walking distance of the aging Astrodome.
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. Lee had relatives take her daughter to Alabama so she would be
"I just cried. She cried. We cried together," Lee said.
As she was offered chips and an apple, Lee said the conditions Houston
are far better than they were in New Orleans, but she can't wait to
get back to her home state.
"I've never been through anything like this," she said. "We have nothing to
go home to. I just want to be safe and comfortable."
Volunteer Daniel Rittgers said many of the refugees remain in shock.
"They are still in the moment of survival," he said. "They have been
The first refugees arrived Wednesday night on a school bus, apparently
commandeered by a person who then picked up other evacuees who were
stranded on the interstate. Another school bus arrived about two hours
later, followed by the first commercial bus that was part of the
emergency evacuation effort to transport Superdome residents to
Hungry and tired, the refugees ate scrambled eggs, biscuits and orange
juice for breakfast, and then passed out on cots to get some much-needed
"People are so happy to have a hot meal," said Margaret O'Brien
Molina, a spokeswoman for the American Red Cross. "Some of the folks
haven't had a hot meal in days."
Some, however, weren't pleased about the long trip to Texas.
Ruby Roussell, who lost her house and car to the hurricane, said she
climbed aboard a bus in New Orleans thinking she'd be dropped off in
Baton Rouge, where she has family. Instead, she found herself in
"We didn't choose to come to this place," she said. "We didn't ask to
Farrell Johnson, a 54-year-old carpenter from New Orleans, said the
shelter was overcrowded Thursday afternoon and tempers had begun to
flare. He said it's hard not to be frustrated given the circumstances.
"First, you know, we done lost everything," he said. "See what I have
on? This is it. That is enough right there."
Houston Mayor Bill White said some problems are to be expected.
"You're talking about God's children here ... My mom and dad used to
say, 'There's always a few bad apples,'" he said.
Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.
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