NEW ORLEANS – Hauling everything he owned in a plastic garbage bag, Darryl Travis walked out of the chandeliered lobby of the Crowne Plaza, joining the exodus of Hurricane Katrina refugees evicted from their hotel rooms across the country Tuesday.
The occupants of more than 4,500 government-paid hotel rooms were ordered to turn in their keys Tuesday, as the Federal Emergency Management Agency began cutting off money to pay for their stays.
Far more people — the occupants of at least 20,000 hotel rooms, many of which housed entire families — were given extensions by FEMA until at least next week and possibly until March 1, said FEMA spokesman Butch Kinerney.
FEMA said it gave people every possible opportunity to request an extension.
"We've bent over backward to reach out. We've gone door-to-door to all of the 25,000 hotel rooms no fewer than six times. And there are individuals who have refused to come to the door, refused to answer. There are people who have run when they saw us coming — those are the ones that are now moving on," Kinerney said.
FEMA maintains that as many as 80 percent of those being forced to check out this week have made other living arrangements, ranging from trailers to receiving federal rent assistance to living with relatives.
While many of the evacuees leaving the Crowne Plaza said they had found other housing, several said they were now homeless.
Travis, 24, and his five childhood friends — all in their 20s — had been living on the floor of another evacuee's hotel room, never having registered.
"All I got is a couple pairs of pants and some shirts. The pressure is on," said Jonathan Gautier, 26, one of the six, who was also carrying a single plastic bag filled with clothes.
Wheeling out her boxes of belongings, 20-year-old Katie Kinkella and sister, Jennifer, were heading back to their ruined house in heavily flooded St. Bernard Parish. The sisters had stayed first at the Marriott, and later at the Crowne Plaza as they waited for FEMA to deliver a trailer. Then they waited for FEMA to hook up the electricity at the trailer.
"They just connected it yesterday," Kinkella said as she loaded bags, boxes and suitcases into the back of a pickup on the curb outside the hotel.
In Houston, where 4,000 evacuees were staying in hotels, around 80 percent had received permission to extend their stays until at least Monday. The remaining 20 percent either failed to contact FEMA or made other housing arrangements, said Frank Michel, a spokesman for Mayor Bill White.
"People need to begin to take responsibility for themselves," Michel said.
In New York, around 50 protesters including both evacuees and activists gathered at the steps of City Hall to protest the evictions.
In Oakland, Calif., demonstrators carrying signs and chanting "Evict FEMA" tried to present an eviction notice to employees at a FEMA branch office.
When the more than 50 protesters were turned away, they posted large eviction signs in the front and back of the building. The demonstrators left the property when threatened with arrest.
Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco complained that FEMA was pulling the plug on the hotel program before securing other housing.
Outside the Crowne Plaza, protesters held up signs that said: "No trailers. No eviction."
Brittany Brown, 21, wept as she explained that although she had been given an extension, eviction was now looming next week. She applied for a trailer in October and, although she keeps calling, her trailer has yet to show up.