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Sunday, October 16, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Most evacuees out of shelters

The Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. — Roughly 95 percent of some 270,000 Hurricane Katrina evacuees were cleared from shelters around the nation by yesterday, the federal government's self-imposed deadline for emptying the refuges.

But that relative success comes amid continued frustration with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and a whopping hotel bill.

As of yesterday afternoon, 14,468 people remained in shelters, according to state and federal officials. Louisiana shelters held 9,003 of them and the remainder were spread among 11 other states.

"Our count is down to 439," said Chisholm Pothier, a Red Cross spokesman at the Cajundome arena and convention center in Lafayette. The facility once held more than 7,000 evacuees.

Considering that thousands of those still in the shelters are likely refugees from Hurricane Rita, which struck southwestern Louisiana and Texas on Sept. 24, authorities believe they have cleared out more than 95 percent of the Katrina evacuees.

Katrina displaced an estimated 1.5 million people when it struck Aug. 29. The shelter population peaked at about 273,000 in the days after the storm, according to FEMA. President Bush set a mid-October goal of emptying the shelters, and FEMA officials adopted an Oct. 15 deadline.

Numbers fluctuated at some of the shelters. Missy Stehr-Wood, manager of a center in Gonzales, said there were still about 740 evacuees at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center on yesterday morning. Some were leaving, but others were moving in as the Red Cross consolidated shelters.

Still, Louisiana officials are unhappy with the pace.

FEMA ascribes the slow pace to difficulties in land acquisition, gaining permits and to disruptions caused by Hurricane Rita.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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