St. Petersburg Times Online: Business

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

Trapped tourists lose chartered buses out

By Associated Press
Published September 2, 2005

NEW ORLEANS - Five days after Susan Dewey arrived in New Orleans to celebrate her birthday, she was so desperate to get out that she banded with hundreds of other tourists to hire 10 buses for $25,000 to rescue them.

After waiting hours, they learned government officials had commandeered their buses to evacuate others.

"We're the forgotten about," Dewey told the Associated Press in a telephone interview Thursday. "The Louisiana officials are trying to get their people out. They don't care about us."

Dewey, 23, of Washington, is one of countless tourists trapped in the city amid the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina.

Dewey said she has no idea when or how she'll be able to leave, her best chance lost Wednesday night when she learned the buses would never come.

"No one really knows what to do," Dewey said. "The people who are left are just going and breaking into stores. ... You would just see people yesterday dragging these bags of shoes. In the hotel, you would see piles of shoe boxes."

Dewey and her boyfriend, Eric Hansen, were staying at Hotel Monteleone in the French Quarter. They called Saturday before leaving Washington to make sure the hotel would be open.

"They were like, "Oh yeah, we don't close for anything,' " she said.

By the time the couple arrived, the city's bridges were closed and residents were being evacuated.

By Sunday, only one bar was open on Bourbon Street.

The hurricane hit Monday. The flooding and looting began Tuesday. By Wednesday, Dewey was stealing to eat.

She said hotel staff encouraged guests to loot a nearby store for food, so that's what Dewey and her boyfriend did.

"I had Power Bars, I had nuts because there were a couple of (hotel) rooms open, and we raided their mini bars," Dewey said.

That day, police went door-to-door to order local residents out of the hotel and to the New Orleans Convention Center, Dewey said.

The handful of managers left at the hotel told guests they had booked 10 buses for $25,000 to evacuate them and those from the Crowne Plaza Astor Downtown. Each passenger paid $45.

The hotel staff began lining up elderly and ill people outside about 7:30 p.m.

"I couldn't count how many wheelchairs you saw," Dewey said.

The guests waited until 9:30 p.m. when a manager told them the buses were confiscated by the military.

Also planning to leave on one of the buses was Bill Hedrick, a Houston oilman, and his family, including his mother-in-law, who uses a walker.

"We kept hearing they were coming, they were coming," he said.

When the crowd learned the buses would never arrive, "everyone was totally stunned," said Hedrick, who moved on to the convention center.

Dewey said she was ordered to head to the convention center.

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.