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New Orleans Evacuees Looking for a Fresh Start

President George W. Bush has promised millions of dollars in financial relief to those who have lost their jobs and businesses because of the hurricane damage. A large number of the New Orleans evacuees have been living temporarily in the town of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Deborah Block went to the city’s unemployment office where people are applying for disaster assistance.

Many evacuees never thought they would be in an unemployment office. They are all income levels, and different races and ethnic groups. But what they have in common is no job, and the fear they could be without one for a long time.

Few are looking for jobs, even short-term.

Most are filling out unemployment claims for government compensation to help tide them over until they go back to work.

Brothers Ahmad and Osama Darwich are native Palestinians who live in New Orleans. They lost their clothing business in Hurricane Katrina. Ahmad says he’s accepting help of any kind, "Whatever help we can get we can use, basically. We're not looking to make money. We're just looking to make it until we can get back on our feet."

His brother says you can tell many people are in the same situation just by looking at the expensive cars in the parking lot outside the unemployment office. "You will see BMW's, Mercedes, all kinds of new cars, but nobody has the money to pay for them anymore. That's how life is, but hopefully life will get on track again."

The long lines at the unemployment office have dwindled recently from 1,400 people to 600 each day. Most of these evacuees eventually hope to return to New Orleans.

Cynthia Bentley manages the job and unemployment centers in New Orleans, most of which were destroyed by the hurricane says, "There is a great possibility that many of us will not go back within the next two or three months, or six months or a year. Many houses are still underwater as of today. So I think everybody will be in for a great shock."

Signs are posted at the Baton Rouge office with job offers, ranging from construction worker, to security guard, to truck driver.

Some don't pay a lot of money, but this man says he doesn't want to rely on government assistance and is looking for a job. "Well, I'll take right now, anything I can get. It doesn't matter, as long as I keep myself busy."

Darlene Carnegie connects employers with job seekers at the Baton Rouge center. She says a few evacuees are thinking ahead to the possibility that they may not be able to go back. "Some people are now thinking I may be staying here. I'm looking for a place to live, or I'm still staying with relatives, and I'm looking for a job."

She says once people see the damage to their homes and workplaces, there could be a huge influx of people looking for jobs in Baton Rouge.