Correction to This Article
An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect name for the Astrodome. It is not called Reliant Stadium. That is a separate complex in Houston.

Area Braces For Influx Of 25,000 Refugees

New Orleans
High winds and heavy flooding devastate the greater New Orleans area following Hurricane Katrina. (Vincent Laforet -- Reuters Pool Photo)
By Lisa Rein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 1, 2005

HOUSTON, Aug. 31 -- Houstonians mobilized for an influx of as many as 25,000 trapped refugees from New Orleans on Wednesday as this oil city opened its pocketbook, its shelters and its vacant American landmark, the Astrodome, to its homeless neighbors.

From government officials to ordinary residents, so many of those involved in the hurricane-relief effort said they knew it could have been them had the wind been blowing down the Gulf Coast toward Texas on Monday.

"We realize that by the grace of God, we could be the ones that have this extra need," Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) said, announcing that hundreds of buses would soon be arriving carrying hurricane survivors to Houston from the sweltering Superdome.

The city, schools, churches, hotels, hospitals and dozens of relief agencies organized to accommodate the refugees inside the Astrodome, which has been used only sporadically since baseball's Houston Astros left in 1999 for more modern quarters downtown.

Red Cross contractors prepared to move thousands of cots into the 70,000-plus capacity domed ballpark dubbed the Eighth Wonder of the World when it was built in 1965.

A catering company set up makeshift kitchens. And the air conditioning, so desperately missing in New Orleans, was turned on.

"We're essentially picking up a small city and inserting it into Houston," said Frank Michel, the city's communications director. The first buses from New Orleans were expected to arrive Wednesday night, although officials said the trip could be delayed.

Once the buses arrive, officials said, the challenges will be huge, identifying sick or emotionally traumatized travelers, helping them to cash checks, find ATMs and telephones to contact their families.

There will be tight security around the Astrodome but no curfews, Michel said.

The bus arrivals represent a second wave of storm victims in Houston. Thousands of families drove here seeking shelter in the days before Katrina hit, staying with friends and family or in local hotels, which are now almost booked.

All around the sprawling city, the country's fourth-largest, people rose to the sudden challenge before them.

A local CBS television affiliate held a telethon to raise money for the refugees, local hospitals began evacuating critically ill patients from Louisiana and Mississippi, and Radio Saigon Houston, a local station that broadcasts in Vietnamese, announced that Vietnamese speakers would take in hundreds of Vietnamese storm victims.

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