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Evacuees scattered across the entire United States, officials say

BATON ROUGE, La.—In the first detailed account of the diaspora of nearly half a million New Orleanians following Hurricane Katrina, federal disaster officials released a map Wednesday showing hurricane evacuees have spread to every state in the Union.

Hundreds of thousands of evacuees remain holed up in hotels or with friends and family from Florida to Texas, but the map also revealed that a surprising number—tens of thousands—have settled in Atlanta, Arizona, Colorado, Miami, Seattle and Southern California.

Authorities estimate that more than 10,000 evacuees have settled in South Florida, 5,000 in the San Francisco Bay area of California and about 3,000 in the greater Philadelphia area.

In fact, with the exception of a swath of rural farmland running from Kansas to North Dakota, evacuees have sought refuge in virtually every county in the country—including, even, every Hawaiian island and six counties in Alaska.

"It's pretty amazing, but we're not that surprised," said Federal Emergency Management Agency spokesman James E. McIntyre. "The potential for that dispersion was there. People go where they have family, and that's everywhere."

Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad Allen unveiled the map, announcing that the government was moving to a new phase in hurricane recovery—embarking on the "daunting task" of tracking down each evacuee in an attempt to return as many as possible to sprawling government trailer parks and vacant apartments in Louisiana.

FEMA has been criticized for spending billions of dollars on its so-called "transitional housing" plan, including $260 million for housing evacuees on cruise ships and more than $20,000 per travel trailer. The agency has also come under fire for not moving quickly enough to relocate evacuees out of shelters.

Allen said that only 22,000 evacuees—down from a high of 273,000 on Sept. 8—remained in shelters. Allen said federal disaster officials are organizing into "strike teams" to canvass areas of the country with high concentrations of evacuees still in hotels to lure them back to Louisiana.

The government's transitional housing program, officially dubbed "HOPE: Housing Options Post Evacuation," is designed to help evacuees relocate as close to their former homes as possible and begin building "a bridge to the future," Allen said, because "hotel rooms are a bridge to nowhere."

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(Davis reports for the San Jose Mercury News.)

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

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