Confused, exhausted and angry, 41 storm-tossed nomads finally arrived at a shelter in San Antonio on Sunday after being shuttled more than 300 miles across Texas on multiple buses since Thursday night.
"We were used and abused," said Warren Jackson, 70, of Beaumont, Tex., after he stepped slowly from a charter bus. He was recovering from a stroke when Hurricane Rita was expected, and he had thought the trip to safety would be fairly uneventful.
"We rode for two days in Beaumont on city buses," said Nykaochia Collins, who said the passengers had to sleep on the buses and could not get food.
Another man, who began his journey in New Orleans weeks ago, said he was on a bus that passed through Lufkin, Livingston and other Texas cities without a layover.
"They've been bouncing all over the place," said shelter director Robert Marbut as he and a team of nurses, firefighters and other emergency personnel sprinted from the shelter's doors to comfort the passengers. Most of them were poor, some of them were sick, all were dazed and several were in tears after their nightmarish journey.
Two of the passengers were hospitalized Sunday night: a man who needed dialysis and a woman in labor.
They were a mixed bunch who had fallen through the cracks of the retreat from Rita. Some had first been evacuated from New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. Others were residents of the Texas coastal cities of Beaumont and Port Arthur, which were in the path of Rita.
They met on Thursday night on Beaumont city buses that were supposed to shuttle them to other vehicles headed for shelters. But something went wrong. Connections were not made. Links in the chain of deliverance were broken.
Many passengers were staying in the shelter overnight, but officials were trying to find hotel rooms for others. "They've been through such shock and trauma that they need to be placed in the best possible environment we can find," Marbut said.