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UE Location DB > Big Town Mall > Vacant mall used as processing station for Katrina evacuees. (Viewed 2057 times)
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Vacant mall used as processing station for Katrina evacuees.
< on 9/4/2005 7:01 PM >
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North Texas welcomed the first contingent of weary evacuees from the Louisiana hurricane zone Friday morning, with at least 25,000 expected to take advantage of temporary facilities being set up in the area.

The first busloads pulled up in front of Reunion Arena in downtown Dallas at daybreak. The suddenly-homeless were greeted with smiles, handshakes, food and water by smiling volunteers.

"We lost everything," said evacuee George Carter shortly after his bus pulled in after its long journey. "Our house is filled with water."

Glen Edwards, another hurricane victim, said he was at home when Katrina struck. "When I woke up, the water was at least six feet high," he said. "For four hours, I was clinging to a lifeboat until rescue came."

Edwards and his family spent the days following the disaster at the steaming-hot Louisiana Superdome. Now they are in Dallas, where conditions will be a distinct improvement, but they don't know what's coming next.

"Your life's been changed," Edwards said. "You don't have nothing. All I have is the clothes on my back—that's it."

By noon, six busloads had arrived at Reunion, and because so many more were expected, arrival operations were shifted to Mesquite's vacant Big Town shopping center, where officials could better process the influx of evacuees and decide where they would be sent. In addition to Reunion, arrivals were also taken to the sprawling Dallas Convention Center nearby.

Mesquite police, who only had a few hours to prepare to host the incoming buses, said they expected nearly 100 more buses to arrive in the next 24 hours.

"The Red Cross continues to do a very good job, but obviously, this influx of additional guests is going to present some challenges to them," said Dallas Assistant City Manager Ramon Miguez. "Amongst the things that we've asked for on an immediate basis from the Texas National Guard is additional cots, so they'll be ready at the Convention Center."

Ahmad Jabari, special assistant to New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, is staying with friends in Frisco but is keeping in constant contact with his boss through his Blackberry. He had words of encouragement for those displaced by the hurricane.

"Sometimes, opportunity comes in the fashion of a storm," Jabari said. "I just say they should be respectful to the city of Dallas, the authorities here, and know that in due time, because there are some things being put in place for you, that you have an opportunity."

By 5 p.m., Reunion Arena was full, so the Convention Center became the focus for new arrivals. Convention Center management said the largest room they had could hold 4,000 people, without affecting any conventions scheduled for the facility. Dallas police and the Army National Guard were providing a strong security presence at both facilities.

"We are hoping for the best and planning for the worst," said Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle. "We anticipate having about 50 officers per shift at Reunion, and another 100 per shift at the Convention Center ... and we're asking for additional help from the Guard."

Dallas city officials, who said they could only handle about 10,000 evacuees, said they were asking for hosting help from other cities, and coordinating relief efforts with the Dallas Independent School District, police, the Texas National Guard, as well as with charity groups and churches. They will try to address the short-term needs of the evacuees and set an agenda for longer-term care.

One of those asking for and getting help was Myron Johnson. His final days in New Orleans were spent in terror. "You just had to fight for your life," he said. "People looting, stealing things, shooting in the air—everything. You have to fight for your life; you couldn't do nothing."

Johnson still didn't know whether the rest of his family had survived Hurricane Katrina. "All I got to do now is pray. I hope that they're alive and pray for everybody around me."

Despite the hardships, Johnson said he was glad to find such a warm welcome in Dallas.

"I thank Texas because they showed much love," he said. "They don't care if you're white, black, green, blue or purple."

A DISD spokesman said evacuated children will be welcome to begin school in Dallas on Monday. The district welcomes donations of required school uniforms.

Well-meaning Texans were asked not to try and deliver relief supplies directly to Reunion Arena or the Convention Center because of difficult logistics. Instead, citizens were urged to offer donations to the Salvation Army or the American Red Cross.

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UE Location DB > Big Town Mall > Vacant mall used as processing station for Katrina evacuees. (Viewed 2057 times)

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