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Hotels Become Instant Communities for Evacuation Strangers

Countless thousands of evacuees from New Orleans and other flooded areas in the Mississippi river delta have crowded into shelters over the past week. But many thousand more have taken refuge in hotels, where they have formed new communities of survivors. VOA Correspondent Greg Flakus has been visiting some of them and has this report from Baton Rouge.

Among those who got out early, before Hurricane Katrina struck, was retired business executive John Bordes, who now lives with his large family in a Marriott hotel in Baton Rouge. He wonders if he will ever be able to take his family back to their house in New Orleans. "If it has water in it, probably not, probably not," he says.

For now, Mr. Bordes spends his time seeking information online and trying to prepare his insurance claim.

These hotel lobbies have brought many stranded people together who otherwise might have never met.

Paying for a hotel room is a financial burden for many displaced people with limited funds like schoolteacher Gena Durapau. "I know my school has been destroyed so I don't have a job to go back to right now, um, we don't know what to do either."

Local church groups and charities throughout Louisiana are trying to help by providing free meals.

Reverend Greg Davis, a minister in Zachary, Louisiana is among those trying to help. "They're trying to make sense of this terrible shock... dislocation of their life. Anything we can do to help make sense, is what we're trying to do. It’s a matter of loving the neighbor and it's a matter of being willing to walk the extra mile and that's what all the people in this community are trying to do."

As hotels filled up, some flood victims found shelter in more natural settings -- at campgrounds.

MJ Siprut and John Balbach are renting a trailer at a campground north of Baton Rouge. "We got here Sunday night in our cars and we slept in our cars and then the next day they had this available and another one that my sister and my brother are in, so they are here with us."

One couple is planning on staying here for at least a few months, along with a feline partner named Slip.

Local churches near the campground are providing three meals a day for hurricane evacuees as well as the hundreds of people involved in the recovery effort.

Just getting power restored to areas nearby New Orleans is a huge task, and the full restoration of the city itself could take years.

Back in Zachary, Reverend Greg Davis wonders what other challenges lay ahead.

"This crisis is going to continue to grow. We have not seen the worst of it," said the reverend.