SAN DIEGO – Volunteers began re-registering evacuees overnight at Qualcomm Stadium to weed out those who may be taking advantage of the disaster relief as those that spent yet another night in the shelter hoped to return home.
The announcements began soon after 10 p.m. Wednesday, informing those remaining evacuees staying in the San Diego Chargers' stadium that they would have to submit their personal information in order to stay in the now-quiet sports center.
"As we now begin to transition from the evacuation mode into the recovery process, we want to assist all evacuees in the best way possible," the announcer said.
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At Qualcomm Stadium, evacuees continued to enjoy a post-disaster experience that was the polar opposite of Hurricane Katrina.
"Here you're sitting in the middle of a disaster but you don't feel like you are and that's been something that — people have tried to compare it to Katrina, but there's no comparison to how that happened there," said Melissa Gibson, who camped out in the stadium parking lot with her husband, Todd; two daughters and a family friend. "This has been phenomenal."
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Unlike the New Orleans Superdome, at Qualcomm, toilets flushed, garbage was kept in cans and the field was empty and clean. Only the big-screen TVs broadcasting flames and the occasional smell of acrid smoke hinted at the wildfires still scorching Southern California.
Inside the stadium, juggler Stryder Staffa entertained Qualcomm's youngest guests, while signs hinted at the amusements on offer: free comedy improv, acupuncture, free international calls, Wi-Fi and massage.
"It seems like a carnival," said Vivian Yu, a 14-year-old freshman student from San Diego.
Indeed it did when a caped woman rode by on a carriage pulled by dogs dressed as ladybugs.
But it was a disaster sideshow that seemed to be winding down. Many had left by evening, and one official said he expected the stadium to be empty by Friday. Rows of empty pitched tents on the upper deck and piles of folded-up cots added to the sense of impending closure.
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Some of the evacuees that remained, like Yu, had decided to lend a hand to the effort. She passed out canned goods Wednesday night with a sailor, Sean Fitzpatrick, who had taken time off from the USS Peleliu to assist, with Chef Boyardee mini ravioli being the canned-good of choice, he said.
"I expected a mob, a lot of activity, but I was rather overwhelmed," Fitzpatrick said.
Many of the evacuees said they had been notified by San Diego County to flee through its Reverse 911 system. And those that spent Wednesday night in the stadium had word that their homes were safe.
Flight instructor Tatsu Sone and his wife, Ruby, were putting their daughter Topacio, 6, to bed in her brand new Disney tent, a donation that made the family's first "camping" trip memorable.
"People from the richer neighborhoods are sleeping next to the people who are supposedly from the bad neighborhoods and it doesn't matter," Ruby Sone said.
Though it had been fun, the overall feeling was that it was time to go home.
"It's a little strange and surreal," Melissa Gibson said. "But it's the best you can hope for in the middle of a natural disaster."