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Refugees Fill Texas Shelters

They lost their homes. Now some Hurricane Katrina (search) survivors are losing their hotel rooms.

"We have nowhere to go. We're actually getting put out of here, and we're willing to pay to stay. It's just ridiculous," said Kim Bacchus, 39, part of a group of about 15 family members from New Orleans who were not allowed to book additional nights at a Super 8 Motel (search) in Houston.

The shortage of hotel rooms for Katrina victims is igniting already short fuses and increasing the pressures of aid workers across Texas. Thousands of survivors sought refuge in the state after flooding forced evacuations in New Orleans.

The American Red Cross (search) could not provide immediate information on the number of shelters open across Texas, but shelters were known to be open in Houston, Dallas, Austin and cities all along the Texas-Louisiana border.

People began arriving at Reunion Arena (search) in downtown Dallas, where the city's Red Cross shelter operations were being consolidated, hours before it was ready to open Wednesday. Cots, blankets, feeding areas were being set up on the main floor of the former home of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks.

"We're going to have several hundred at least," Red Cross spokeswoman Anita Foster said.

Foster said she expected the number to grow as Labor Day weekend approached and hotels asked people to leave to make room for customers, many other evacuees, with reservations.

"By the time we put everyone to bed last night, we had more than 400 in Dallas. We had calls from hotels all day long, saying 'we have evacuees'," she said. "We're working ... to make sure we are all prepared to care for them."

The Rev. James Thomas of Rhema Life Fellowship Church in Plano visited another Dallas shelter to offer counseling and let refugees know that some of his members were willing to open their homes.

"It's just heart-wrenching," said Thomas, who clasped hands to pray with Calvin Noble, who drove in from New Orleans with his wife and four children Wednesday morning. The family chose to ride out the storm, then saw everything they own destroyed before escaping with their lives.

"We're sleeping in a gym now. We had a nice house," said Noble, his eyes puffy from tears. "It's a blessing to be saved anyway. We went through a lot."

Bacchus, who fears her home is under water, doesn't know where she will go next. She said her family booked two motel rooms for two nights. When they realized they needed to stay longer, the motel said it needed to make room for other victims with reservations.

She said her family would try to move in with a friend in Houston, but was concerned that too many people were already staying there.

"Why should be have to go to a shelter when we have money to pay? We didn't really want to do that," she said. "My heart my goes out to everybody that went through this, but we shouldn't be put through this situation if we have money."

Andy Patel, the Super 8 Motel manager, said practically all his guests are refugees from New Orleans, including those who would take rooms occupied by Bacchus and her family. He said he tried to relocate her group to another hotel, but had no luck.

"There's nothing we can do unless people call in and cancel or do something," he said. "I called nearby hotels, but they seem to say they're all sold out."

The Dallas Convention and Visitor Bureau (search) reports that hundreds of reservations have been made through its special hotel rates program, available to hurricane survivors through a toll-free phone number and online booking program.

"We have documented hundreds of reservations made at area hotels over the last two days," said Phillip Jones, bureau president.

"Our hotels have really stepped up with deeply discounted special daily rates from $49-99, and additional hotels have joined the program each day," he said. "They have been requested to extend these rates as long as possible for those who show their drivers licenses from affected states."

At least 23,000 refugees, a majority of them at the New Orleans Superdome, were to travel in a bus convoy to Houston starting Wednesday night and will be sheltered at the Astrodome.

About 1,000 people were in Houston shelters early Wednesday, and relief officials expected that number to triple.

About a dozen other Red Cross shelters were opened in Houston and southeast Texas, including a shelter at Faith Family Church in Victoria. The Red Cross planned to consolidate those operations so people would have food service and showers available in one place.

At least two Baptist churches in Orange housed hurricane survivors, including as many as 400 in one church, said John Hall, who works with the Texas Baptist General Convention of Texas. Memorial Baptist Church in Baytown had about 250 people.