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Survivors of Katrina pour into Texas

DALLAS—As New Orleans empties, the population of Texas continues to grow.

In San Antonio, 52 flights brought nearly 6,500 evacuees to Kelly Air Force Base in just over 24 hours.

As military reservists and San Antonio police officers assisted the evacuees out of the planes and into buses and ambulances on Saturday, many of the weary evacuees wept, while others eagerly accepted bottles of water.

In Dallas County, the main staging area in Mesquite quickly filled and was closed by city officials. Dallas city officials said the populations of the two Red Cross shelters in the Dallas Convention Center and Reunion Arena had grown to a total of 6,600 people.

Ramon Miguez, Assistant City Manager in Dallas, said 85 busloads of people were parked in Mesquite, waiting to move to shelters. At a morning briefing, he said he'd been notified that 20 more buses were en route.

Dallas city officials urged state and federal emergency response agencies to help other communities locate and staff shelters for 25,000 refugees destined for North Texas.

"We have already advised the state this morning that we are fast approaching capacity," Miguez said. "They, in essence, need to cease the flow to Dallas."

Miguez said the city had re-evaluated its resources and decreased estimates on the number of evacuees it can accept. He said Dallas could only take about 8,200 people, down from the estimate of 10,000 on Friday.

"We're not going to be able to deal with this problem unless the state and federal governments rain assets and resources to a much greater degree than they are," said Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle.

In Houston, officials said they were prepared to handle a total of 33,500 evacuees on the grounds of the Astrodome and downtown at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

Throughout the Houston area, officials estimated that there were between 150,000 and 200,000 evacuees staying in shelters, hotel rooms and with friends and relatives.

In San Antonio, the evacuees were being sent to several locations around Kelly, a former Air Force base being redeveloped for commercial use. An empty factory once used to make Levi's jeans was being prepared to house some survivors. Randy Jenkins, a regional fire chief for San Antonio's Fire Department, said Kelly and the other facilities in the area expect to have as many as 13,000 evacuees.

Hank Finney, an evacuee who landed at Kelly, was making plans to restart his life in Texas, vowing never to return to his native New Orleans.

"My wife, my kids and I have been living on overpasses, standing in water with feces and losing hope," said Finney, 40. "Thank God for San Antonio."


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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