Evacuees Seek Safety In East Texas

It looks like many Hurricane Katrina evacuees will be here for a while, waiting out the storm. Louisiana emergency response officials are not allowing residents to return to southeast Louisiana at this time.

Evacuees line the hotel balconies. They swim in the pools. They wait to go home. Bruce Lesserre said, "We went through Andrew and it wasn't too pretty. so we decided this time to get out of Dodge."

They're escaping the kind of weather that news teams perform in. A few use library computers, wanting more specific locations than what network news provides. Others call friends who stayed. Sometimes the news isn't good. Monique Simms of New Orleans East said, "I live in an apartment. I'm on the bottom floor, so I know my house is gone. So, it's very hard, very hard to deal with. You got to laugh to keep from crying."

So, they make the most of it. They play, walk the dog, and continue to wait. The evacuees may spend their days swimming and relaxing, but their trip is far from a vacation. Souvenirs are replaced with more essential items, like like a generator--something they'll need when they return home. It's a little bit of preparation for so much uncertainty.

"We've evacuated an eight-month-old to an 82-year-old," said one family member. The 82-year-old evacuee responds, "Oh, does it concern me? At my age, I can't start all over." But, perhaps, they'll have to. That's all right to Michael Soniat. "I wanted to make sure my family is safe and make sure I got out of the home. We're all right. We can build up another house later on."

Soniat caught up on his sleep at a Red Cross shelter at the Nacogdoches Recreation Center before moving to a hotel.

Possible Price Gouging

The shelters are free. The hotels are not, and at least one Nacogdoches hotel could be charging more than they should be to hurricane evacuees. The City of Nacogdoches has notified the Texas Attorney General that it has received consumer complaints about inflated rates at an undisclosed local economy hotel.

Deputy City Manager Victoria LaFollet-Koenig said, "We'll report to them anything to that end, and the state has told us to be vigilant in that respect."

Hotels are allowed to charge up to the "rack rate." That's the maximum rate you find inside most hotel room doors.