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Many towns turned away evacuees, leading to days-long bus trip

SAN ANTONIO—A group of Hurricane Rita evacuees were forced to remain on buses for most of a bewildering, days-long trip to San Antonio because they were denied shelter in several cities, passengers said.

The exhausting trip also was extended because the evacuees were returned to Beaumont, their starting point, halfway through under the mistaken belief that it was safe to go back.

Though accounts from the fatigued passengers sometimes conflicted Monday, this general picture emerged:

Evacuees from several Gulf Coast cities—including some Hurricane Katrina evacuees—boarded Beaumont city-transit and school buses Thursday night. Along the way, some found shelter, and remaining passengers were consolidated.

As they headed northwest, they were turned away from shelters in several small towns, said David Jones, a 39-year-old Beaumont construction worker who made the trip with his pregnant wife and 2-year-old son. In some cases, fire marshals said the buildings were full.

Water and a few snacks were offered along the way, Jones said. The bus tried to return to Beaumont early in the weekend, but was stopped outside town. At one point, the manager at a motel that had no vacancies allowed passengers to sleep on the dining room floor for a few hours.

The trip was grueling for the elderly, the ill and young who were aboard. When they arrived in San Antonio on Sunday morning, 41 passengers were transferred to a shelter for people with medical problems.

The shelter sent two to a hospital immediately: a man who needed kidney dialysis and Jones' wife. Eight others were treated for severe dehydration.

"These people zigzagged all over south Texas," shelter director Robert Marbut said.


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

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