CONROE, Texas – Far from home, literally scattered to the winds, tens of thousands of Texans sat in shelters early Saturday, killing time, watching television and wondering what Hurricane Rita (search) had left of their homes.
Araceli Ovilla (search), 29, from Houston, waited until Friday before she, her husband and four kids left their home and tried heading to Dallas. They left because they feared the bayou near their home might overflow and flood their neighborhood.
The family abandoned their plan to go to Dallas, fearing they would run out of gas, and ended up in a cramped shelter in a Catholic church and school in Conroe, about 30 miles north of Houston (search) filled with more than 300 people.
Ovilla said she doesn't regret fleeing her home.
"I told my husband if we stayed in our two-story apartment, either water on the first floor could get us or the high winds if we were on the second floor would get us," Ovilla said, speaking in Spanish as she gathered outside the church early Saturday talking with other evacuees.
She was among the thousands of people who fled Houston in the three days before Rita made landfall early Saturday — an evacuation that, while plagued by occasional missteps, managed to get nearly everyone to safety.
Still ahead of authorities lay the challenge of repopulating the area — getting millions of people back to Houston, and to the coastal area beyond, once the worst of the storm passed.
Jose Martinez, 18, a pipe steel mill worker from Baytown, said he doesn't fault his father for deciding to pack up his family in seven vehicles and flee up I-45. They tried driving to Dallas but ended up at the Conroe shelter, nearly out of gas.
"It was worth it," he said. "The hurricane could have missed us. But at the same time it could have hit us. I'm not upset by officials who told us to leave."
For the thousands in shelters, it was too early Saturday to get a grasp of how damaged their communities back home were. Rita had jogged toward the Louisiana-Texas state line, east of where forecasters originally said it might land, but heavy rainfall continued through the night as the storm marched north.
In the lobby of the Victorian Inn & Suites in Nacogdoches, Ritesh Vyas, 26, who fled the hard-hit coastal town of Beaumont, saw TV images of fires burning in Galveston and said he wasn't sorry he sought safety.
In Tyler, at a shelter set up at the First Baptist Church Recreation Center (search), James Wade of Port Arthur was keeping one eye on the weather back home and another on potential flooding in Tyler.
"It kind of makes you think a little bit. You leave one place to get away from the storm, and it may be someplace else," he said with a nervous laugh. "They said it probably won't be that bad. We'll get some wind and some rain here."
Wade, a construction worker at a coastal chemical plant, said he wondered what would be left of his home "when I get back, if I can go back."
He and an extended family that totaled 12 people, including four children and two grandchildren, made the daylong trip Thursday in a three-car caravan.
"I've been trying to figure out where I'm going to go to church on Sunday," he said.