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Hurricane Katrina

Refugees line up for Superdome lock-in

Published August 29, 2005

NEW ORLEANS - While thousands of residents streamed out on clogged highways Sunday, thousands more made their way to the Superdome seeking refuge from Hurricane Katrina.

They were the poor, homeless, frail or forgotten, those without the means or inclination to go anywhere else.

They waited in blocks-long lines outside the massive indoor football stadium. Once inside, they were told, they couldn't leave, possibly for days.

No one knew what would be left of their city by then.

After 18 years as a Tulane University groundskeeper, after paying off the furniture and television, after helping his relatives make ends meet, Hipolito Valdes, 62, was assured of only what he carried with him Sunday.

"What can we do but hope?" said Valdes, who brought a towel, a cell phone and a case for his glasses. "Hope may be all we got."

By 2:30 p.m., more than 10,000 people were in the dome or waiting in a line that stretched the length of the stadium. Emergency management officials expected thousands more to flow into the 70,000-seat stadium, home to the NFL's New Orleans Saints and New Year's Sugar Bowl. It is by far the biggest of the city's 10 emergency shelters.

Armed National Guardsmen searched everyone and their bags. They seized guns, knives, drugs, even cigarettes.

Electricity was sure to go, and running water might too, said Col. Terry Ebbert, New Orleans' homeland security director. The Superdome field was vulnerable to flooding, so refugees were sent to concourses and upper seats.

From there, they were on their own.

"It's going to be very uncomfortable," Ebbert said. "But that's not why we're here. We're here to make sure that on Tuesday, people are still alive."

Residents will be locked in until at least Tuesday morning, officials said. But where they will go is anyone's guess. Perhaps, Ebbert said, to another shelter.

Vernell Phillips, 59, arrived with the clothes on his back, a faded brown weather watch and his wallet.

Currise Taylor, 39, hauled Pepto-Bismol, Lysol and Alka Seltzer in a cart with Butterball turkey, sandwich bread and enough clothes for a few days.

Women carried crying babies and unopened gallons of milk. One man used a guitar as a pillow, sleeping amid the commotion.

They arrived by bus, foot or car.

"I don't know what to do," said Reshekka Philson, an 18-year-old with an 11-month old son, Markquise. "We don't have a car. We tried calling hotels. But they were either filled or they wouldn't take us."

People were still in lines that stretched for blocks when night fell and the rain began, heavy and steady. It drenched the many people still outside, along with their blankets, clothing and bags of food.

Alice George, 76, a homeless woman wearing shorts and a T-shirt with the word "Love" on the front, was searched for almost 10 minutes.

"They took my cigarettes and lighter," she said. "I guess I'll do without."

--Times staff writer Chris Tisch contributed to this report, which includes information from the Associated Press.

[Last modified August 29, 2005, 05:07:43]

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