As many as 25,000 evacuees from New Orleans were taken to the Astrodome stadium and two other large shelters in Houston last week, but officials say they are now housing just a little more than 8,000 hurricane victims. Many evacuees are feeling stranded and frustrated as they face months away from home.
Thousands of people formed lines at the Astrodome and at the downtown convention center here in Houston Wednesday after hearing rumors that turned out to be inaccurate. They had heard that FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, was giving out housing credits and debit cards to any evacuee who showed up.
In fact, FEMA officials were taking applications for both and there will still be long waits for financial assistance even after the forms are filled out. To make matters worse, FEMA cut off the processing while hundreds were still in line.
"We are going to have to let the next group through and that is all that can register for FEMA today," FEMA announces on loudspeaker.
Registration for the cards will resume Thursday.
After they succeed in registering for the debit cards, evacuees will have to wait for another week or two for the cards to be delivered. The cards, which will be worth around two thousand dollars each, are issued one to a household and cannot be used for purchases of alcohol or tobacco.
As for the dwindling numbers of people at area shelters, Red Cross officials say many people have been able to connect with family and friends in recent days and many more have gone out seeking apartments or houses they can rent. Life in the shelters is comfortable and safe, but there is little privacy and people feel isolated from the rest of the community.
Another factor may be offers from other cities, like Denver, where there may also be temporary jobs for the hurricane victims. A cruise ship docked in nearby Galveston has offered comfortable quarters to refugees and some airlines are offering free tickets to displaced people from Louisiana who want to join friends and relatives in other parts of the country.
In another development here in Texas, the Mexican army is crossing the border to bring help to New Orleans and its stranded citizens. This is the first time Mexican military troops have crossed into Texas since 1846, during the war between the United States and Mexico that resulted in Mexico losing the vast area now known as the American southwest. The Mexican soldiers will not be armed and the 35 trucks in the convoy will be loaded with blankets, water, food and mobile kitchens.
Mexican President Vicente Fox brushed aside complaints from some opponents who said he should have sought Congressional approval for the operation, saying that no such approval is needed for a humanitarian mission.
Among the 190 some participants in the convoy are doctors, nurses and engineers. The government of Mexico is also sending a navy ship with rescue vehicles and helicopters from the port of Tampico to the devastated coast of Mississippi.