NEW ORLEANS – First the federal government took the buses they had hired to evacuate them.
Then their hotels turned them out onto the desolate streets.
They trudged for blocks to walk over a bridge, but officers wouldn't let them cross — and fired a few warning shots over their heads to convince them.
And the night was coming down.
Despairing, dozens of trapped tourists huddled on a downtown street corner and waited for dark.
"I grew up in an upper-middle class family. Street life is foreign to me," said Larry Mitzel, 53, of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. "I'm not sure I'm going to get out of here alive."
The fate of tourists in dozens of hotels here was caught up in the days of chaos and confusion that came after Hurricane Katrina's (search) 145 mph winds.
Many smaller hotels shut down. The largest housed hundreds and hundreds of guests and took in refugees from the storm. How many remained Thursday was unclear.
Tourists and hotel managers alike condemned government officials for ignoring them.
"The tourists are an afterthought here," said Bill Hedrick of Houston, who came to town on business and was trapped with his wife and elderly mother-in-law.
"We're appalled," said Jill Johnson, 53, of Saskatoon. "This city is built on tourism and we're their last priority."
Peter Ambros, general manager of the Astor Crowne Plaza in the French Quarter (search), said, "Guests who bring business to the hotels are treated 10 times worse than the people at the Superdome (search)."
He helped arrange the hiring of 10 buses to evacuate 500 guests from his and a nearby hotel — at a cost of $25,000.
Then the Federal Emergency Management Agency commandeered the buses and police told the guests to go to the nearby convention center, where a crowd left without food, water or security was growing angry.
Instead, the tourists — dragging their rolling luggage through broken glass, smashed bricks and trash — tried to cross a huge bridge blocks away.
They were turned back when another group trying to cross began to threaten the officers, said Whit Herndon, 32, of Jonesboro, Ark.
As night approached, the tourists stuck close together on a corner of the downtown waterfront and within sight of a police gathering point.
Officers brought them food and water and promised buses would come for them. Most prepared to sleep, sheltered by a concrete overhang.
The tourists put on a game face and prepared to sleep.
Ann Robertson, a 50-year-old vocational counselor from Nashville, Tenn., looked on the bright side. They had food, there was safety in numbers — but then she looked at the sky.
"I don't know," she said, "I never slept on the street before."