On Move Again, Katrina Evacuees Now Flee Rita

By MICHAEL GRACZYK, Associated Press Writer

They waded through the chest-high floodwaters in the streets of New Orleans. They were plucked from their rooftops in the rescue baskets of helicopters. They survived the hell of the Louisiana Superdome and a 350-mile bus ride to Texas.

Now, just a few weeks after getting settled at emergency shelters in Houston, Hurricane Katrina evacuees are on the move again to escape another storm.

"This reminds me of the Israelites marching in the desert," Norman Bethancourt, 51, said as he waited for a bus to take him from Reliant Arena to Ellington Field, where he and the other refugees were set to board planes bound for a military base in Arkansas.

About 1,100 evacuees -- down from a high of nearly 10,000 -- living in Houston's two largest shelters, Reliant Arena and the George R. Brown Convention Center, began making their way to Fort Chaffee, Ark., as Hurricane Rita strengthened into a hurricane and lashed the Florida Keys with heavy rain and strong wind.

Forecasters said Rita would continue to gain strength as it crossed the warm Gulf of Mexico and would probably come ashore in Texas over the weekend.

Houston officials said moving the evacuees was necessary because the shelters might not hold up in a major hurricane. They hoped to have everyone moved by Tuesday night.

The evacuees carried little. Some had a backpack, others a plastic bag. A few had pillows. One girl, tears streaming down her face, carried a stuffed toy in a little cage.

"A lot of people didn't want to go," said Wayne Sylvester, who was wearing a T-shirt that proclaimed: "I Survived Katrina." "It looks like the storm is following me. Choice is you don't have a choice."

Many of the evacuees were not happy about leaving for Arkansas and were looking for somewhere else to go.

"Hell. It's been pure hell," said Lisa Banks, 33, who was outside Reliant Arena with her four children, ages 8 to 15. "I'm not going to Arkansas. I feel like a rag doll, people throwing me around."

Seated on chair, she kept a black plastic garbage bag nearby. It was filled with towels. Banks, who was airlifted with her family out of their home in New Orleans, had hoped to settle in Houston, find a job and a place to live.

I don't know what's going to happen next," she said. "We really don't know what to do. We were supposed to get housing here."


"No," she said adamantly. "Arkansas is not a good place for me."

"I don't even know where that's at," said Michael Russell, as he ate his lunch of macaroni and cheese and a sausage while he waited for his brother. They hoped to get to Hammond, La., not Arkansas. Both are from New Orleans.

Texas officials also were planning to move Louisiana evacuees out of shelters in Corpus Christi and Beaumont. In all, some 4,000 were headed for Arkansas and 3,000 to Tennessee.

At Reliant, Carmelita Speed, 25, clutched a box of tissue and periodically dabbed at tears. She reluctantly was going to the plane and Arkansas.

"I hope and pray it isn't like the Superdome," Speed said, describing how for days there she "slept on the ground, or on cardboard."

Her boyfriend, Roland Mitt, said: "I'm running out of patience. I'm upset. I'm mad. I'm disgusted. All of the above."

"I just want to live peacefully and have a happy life," Speed said.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.

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