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Louisiana Communities Offer Help to New Orleans Refugees

Thousands of people from New Orleans and other areas of southern Louisiana devastated by Hurricane Katrina continue to stream out of the area seeking shelter. Hotels are completely booked from Houston, Texas to western Alabama and many of the displaced are checking into shelters established by charitable groups and government agencies.

Buses full of refugees from New Orleans pull up continually at the Cajun Dome stadium in Lafayette, about 200 kilometers northwest of New Orleans. Many of the people look tired and disoriented. Local police, medical personnel and area volunteers greet them and assign them a place to rest inside.

"As they appear here, we have several personnel that are set up to handle different aspects of the operation," said Gregory Davis, director of the Cajun Dome, who is overseeing the operation. "We have a medical clinic and medical triage. We have entertainment for the kids. We have public schools, our system that is here now registering kids to bring them to and from classes, we have a food operation here. So it is like a miniature city inside the Cajun Dome."

The Cajun Dome is located on the campus of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and is normally used for athletic events and concerts. Cajun refers to the predominant ethnic group here, who are descendants of French Acadians who came here from Canada in the 18th century.

Gregory Davis says this facility will probably be used as a shelter for at least several weeks to come. He says many of the people coming here have nowhere else to go and little to sustain them.

"Just about all the people here have no other alternative, because they either have no family members they can go to who live outside of New Orleans or they have no money to draw on to go get a hotel," he said.

One such person is 70-year-old Doris David, who, until last week, worked as a cashier in a French Quarter shop and lived on a tree-lined lane in New Orleans. Her house was crushed when one of those trees fell on it, but she has nothing but praise for her new, temporary home here at the Lafayette shelter.

Doris David: "They are wonderful. Everything is so accommodating, three meals a day. Everybody is so nice. No problem. "

Greg Flakus: How long do you expect to be here?

Doris David: "Probably a week or two, you cannot go back, you know."

Greg Flakus: What if it turns out to be longer? What if it turns out to be months?

Doris David: "We'll have to stay here."

Not everyone who comes here is seeking shelter. Jerome White is staying with nearby relatives, but he lost contact with his mother before he left New Orleans and is looking for her among the thousands of people milling about here.

"We just came here to see if we could get some information on some help and to see if they brought my mom on one of those buses here," he said. "They say they are bringing a lot of people from New Orleans here, too."

There are people from New Orleans in shelters all across the region. The city of Houston is sheltering several thousand and the federal government plans to move some 25,000 refugees to the Houston Astrodome stadium in the coming days.

For emergency medical technician Nancy Dodson of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the situation is emotionally overwhelming.

"When I see the total destruction that has gone on in New Orleans and these people have lost absolutely everything," she said. "They have medical problems and they are coming into Baton Rouge and there are no more beds for them and we have to take them to Lafayette or Jackson, Mississippi or anywhere. There are people who have no money and they are sleeping in their cars, they have medical problems, they are dehydrated, they are weak. It is very emotional for me. I just want to give them everything I have, you know, extra blankets in my truck, I just want to wrap them up and give them a pillow and a place to keep warm."

But, Nancy Dodson does not pause long to shed a tear. She fills up the gas tank of her ambulance and heads back to help more of the people whose lives have been forever altered by this disaster.