September 5, 2005

Houston mayor says refugee flow may have peaked

By Adam Tanner

HOUSTON (Reuters) - The mayor of Houston, the largest New
Orleans flood refugee center, said on Monday that the flow of
people out of the devastated region to the nation's fourth
largest city may have peaked.

"My sense is today or last night or the day before is the
peak," Mayor Bill White told Reuters in an interview at the
Houston convention center, which houses about 2,000 mostly
black refugees. "There are still people coming in, but there
are a lot of people going out."

"There were a massive amount that moved out of here
yesterday, many of them using a cell phone trying to locate
friends and relatives," he said. "They are leaving shelters,
massive amounts, and a lot of them are doing it on their own

Following the floods of Hurricane Katrina, hundreds of
thousands left neighboring Louisiana for Texas, and many of
them say they will start a new life in the Lone Star State.

White estimated the evacuee population in Houston at
between 150,000 and 200,000.

Some are staying at fancy hotels, occasionally parading
dogs through the lobby. Those without financial resources are
staying in huge open areas such as the Astrodome, an enclosed,
air-conditioned stadium that once housed Houston's football and
baseball teams and now houses 16,000.

"The success will be measured by how quickly we get the
evacuees out into the mainstream, living with independence and
dignity," White said. "Americans shouldn't live in shelters

Some of those displaced by the floods were already working
in Houston, White said.

"There are hundreds of people who are reporting to work
here in Houston who were employees in New Orleans just eight
days ago with the same company," the mayor said. "The larger
national firms are absorbing their work force in areas around
the disaster area and Houston is the largest area."

"All of the very important work of the national energy
industry, most of that has been relocated here."

The mayor said, for example, that two of the largest
employers in New Orleans, Royal Dutch Shell, and J. Ray
McDermott, have U.S. headquarters in Houston and were able to
accommodate workers here.

"Many of the businesses located in New Orleans will
reconstitute themselves in Houston while New Orleans is being
rebuilt," he said.

White said the Houston economy could absorb tens of
thousands of new jobs, adding: "But 100,000, that's a different
matter. That will be all over America."

Still in the works are local plans to accommodate thousands
needing public housing and education for children.