HOUSTON – Texas opened two more giant centers for victims of Hurricane Katrina (search) on Friday after refugees filled Houston's Astrodome to capacity.
Mayor Bill White (search) declared that the city's convention center and an exhibition hall would accept more hurricane survivors, and conventions for the coming weeks would be canceled.
"We see the tragedy which is ongoing in New Orleans, and we are doing the best we can to make sure when people get to Houston they have a decent place to stay," White said.
As shelters in Houston, Dallas and San Antonio filled up, the governor's office reached out to the state's mid-sized cities to find additional space.
"This is just the beginning of what will be many months," Gov. Rick Perry (search) said. "It will be a long effort trying to help people rebuild their lives and get a sense of normalcy, safety in what is a very trying time."
Elsewhere, officials from as far away as Utah, West Virginia, Wyoming and Michigan said they would also accept refugees. Elected leaders were considering various places to house them, including military barracks and an empty shopping mall.
Perry's office announced that thousands more evacuees would be directed to shelters in Austin, Corpus Christi, Lubbock, Amarillo and El Paso. The governor also deployed 1,000 Texas National Guard troops to provide security and support evacuation operations.
Despite crowding at the Astrodome, more buses were being loaded Friday at the Superdome in New Orleans, where conditions had become desperate as thousands struggled with lack of supplies, clogged plumbing and no air conditioning.
When the Astrodome filled, Katrina refugees who had finally arrived by bus were left in limbo for more than two hours before they were redirected to the exhibit hall.
Janetta Arnold was among those who found room at the Astrodome. She was rescued with 13 relatives after being stranded for three days on a hurricane-ravaged New Orleans highway.
"I was able to get a shower last night," the 36-year-old grocery store cashier said Friday. "I am grateful for what the people here in Houston have given us."
A wall at the stadium was crammed with scraps of paper, each showing a written message seeking friends or relatives or telling loved ones the writer was all right.
"Mom: If you see this...," a typical message started, then listed instructions describing where a person could be found on the noisy Astrodome floor, where many evacuees sat somber amid restless children with little to do.
In San Antonio, the former Kelly Air Force Base began accepting people on buses that were turned away from the Astrodome. Up to 7,000 people could be accommodated in an air-conditioned office building and warehouse.
Plans were being made for alternative sites in San Antonio once those buildings filled.
As people arrived, they were given pink lemonade and allowed to use portable restrooms. Others arrived on military helicopters directly from New Orleans and were met by people with food and medicine.
Many refugees showed up hot, dazed and exhausted. They are given toothbrushes, soap, washcloths and other toiletries when they signed in. Aides questioned them about health needs.
Inside the Astrodome, doctors had trouble keeping up with everyone needing treatment.
"Many people might think there are enough people here, and there are not. We just need help," said Dr. Steven Glorsky, who had treated evacuees for heart attacks, open wounds and diabetes. "We have a crisis in there."
A few people were arrested in the Astrodome, although Sheriff Tommy Thomas did not have an exact count. He said some men were arrested for going into the women's showers. Others were arrested for fighting over cots.
Dr. Stuart C. Yudofsky, chairman of psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, said about 30 psychiatrists from around Houston are assisting with the mental health needs of those staying inside the Astrodome.
"The Astrodome was designed to have maybe 20,000 people for six hours at the most for something upon which they are all focused," Yudofsky said. "To be there 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for an indeterminate period of time, that experiment has never been run — and we are trying to do that right now."
Myron Johnson, 27, was just happy to get three meals, a cot and some fresh clothes. The Pizza Hut worker fled his New Orleans apartment Monday in nothing but boxer shorts, leaving behind nine relatives.
"I don't know where my family is. I'm here by myself," he said outside Reunion Arena in downtown Dallas. He was frustrated he had not been able to contact loved ones.
"I thank God for the good volunteers of Texas, but all they can do is try to keep your spirits up," he said. "I just want to know that they're OK so I can salvage the rest of my life."
The state was considering using housing vouchers to allow displaced Louisiana residents to move into apartments, the governor's office said.
Along with Texas, other states such as Illinois and Maryland offered to let hurricane survivors enroll their children in public schools.
In South Carolina, U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn proposed housing up to 5,000 refugees in unused military barracks, an empty mall and other large buildings in Columbia.
Johnson held out hope that he would eventually return to New Orleans.
"In my heart, I believe there will be a Big Easy again," he said. "A better Big Easy."