Survivors of Hurricane Katrina continued to flee New Orleans on Friday seeking shelter in Texas as emergency convoys reached the city to assist remaining residents and try to halt criminal activity.
Around 15,000 evacuees who had taken shelter in New Orleans’ Superdome were transported by bus to Houston’s Astrodome. About 3,000 more took refuge in a nearby horse arena. Original estimates predicted the Astrodome could hold up to 23,000 but aid workers had to temporarily stop accepting survivors.
“We’ve actually reached capacity for the safety and comfort of the people inside there,” American Red Cross spokeswoman Dana Allen said, adding that people were “packed pretty tight” on the floor.
Houston Mayor Bill White said the nearby Reliant Center and the George R. Brown Convention Center are being prepared to house additional evacuees. Houston estimated as many as 55,000 people who fled the hurricane were staying in area hotels.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced that Dallas would host 25,000 more refugees at Reunion Arena and 25,000 others would relocate to a San Antonio warehouse at KellyUSA, a city-owned complex that once was home to an Air Force base.
Back in New Orleans, law enforcement officials are trying to control looting and violence, and now fires are adding to the city’s problems. A blaze erupted in an old retail building on Canal Street and earlier Friday morning, a chemical explosion went off about 15 blocks from the French Quarter sending a pillar of acrid gray smoke over a ruined city. There were no injuries and the fires are still under investigation.
About 7,000 National Guardsmen arrived in New Orleans Thursday with food, water and weapons to bring relief to survivors and help curb the violence. “The cavalry is and will continue to arrive,” said one general. The trucks began arriving at the New Orleans Convention Center, where 15,000 to 20,000 hungry and desperate refugees had taken shelter.
Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, commander of the Army Corps of Engineers, said engineers are developing a plan to create new breaches in the levees so that a combination of pumping and the effects of gravity will drain the city of water. He said the process could take weeks.
President Bush promised to restore order in New Orleans and called the $10.5 billion emergency federal aid package passed by Congress a small down payment. “The federal government’s job is big and it’s massive and we’re going to do it,” he said in Mobile, Ala., during a tour of the region.