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Setbacks after Katrina

From evacuation to displacement, long lines, finding loved ones



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Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
New Orleans (Louisiana)
Emergency Incidents

(CNN) -- The confusing odyssey for New Orleans evacuees began while Hurricane Katrina was still churning in the Gulf of Mexico.

The latest frustration came Thursday when authorities locked down the Astrodome complex in Houston, Texas, after a large crowd gathered and waited in what they thought was a line for $2,000 in emergency aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The line was actually for a similar Red Cross program.

FEMA did hand out the emergency aid on Friday, and long lines of people waited overnight to make sure they got theirs.

Twelve days after the storm hit, relief was still coming in fits and starts, stalled by a string of policy changes, reversals and miscues on the federal, state and local levels.

Confusion hit before storm

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin urged residents to flee the city on August 27, warning that floodwaters could overtake the low-lying city.

Nagin issued a mandatory evacuation order the next day, as the storm picked up steam, but many of the city's poorest residents had no way to get out of the city. (Full story)

Buses were pressed into service to move residents to the Louisiana Superdome, dubbed the refuge of last resort, and other city shelters.

Those who wouldn't or couldn't leave their houses often ended up stranded -- in attics, on roof tops and even in trees -- when floodwaters surged into the city. (Full story)

Others died.

The Superdome -- designed to hold more than 70,000 football fans for a few hours -- was not meant to house thousands of people for days.

It quickly lost power, air conditioning and water when the storm hit on the 29th and Katrina's powerful winds ripped chunks from its roof. Toilets overflowed, garbage piled up and evacuees were terrorized by looting and lawlessness and rumors that children were being raped and killed.

Nagin told people to bring enough supplies for several days, but some of the people who crowded into the dome and the neighboring convention center didn't even arrive with their shoes.

"Why is no one in charge?" asked one frustrated evacuee at the convention center. "I find it hard to believe."

Aid convoys and buses did not arrive until four days after the storm.

Nagin repeatedly lashed out at the slow pace of the operation. (Hear Nagin's angry demand for more troops -- 1:00)

Families scattered

Once the evacuation started, people were loaded on buses and airplanes, often without knowing where they were going.

Many were sent to the Astrodome, which filled up quicker than expected. Texas officials initially planned to send the exhausted evacuees to shelters in Dallas, San Antonio and other cities, but then decided to open the neighboring Reliant Center.

Few, if any, records were kept on who was sent where as the wave of evacuees fanned out across the country.

Evacuees posted fliers in shelters, the Internet and made passionate appeals on television in hopes of finding loved ones. (Safe list)

FEMA's Web site has links to several private sites listing missing persons, but does not have its own listing.

The U.S. government has been quick to authorize funds for the relief effort, passing more than $62 billion so far. President Bush signed a $51.8 billion spending measure Thursday night. (Full story)

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