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Katrina's poorest evacuees fare worst, study finds

Some cities struggle to absorb the needy

NEW ORLEANS -- Evacuees who escaped Hurricane Katrina's flooding on their own are faring better almost a year later than the thousands rescued and taken to cities saturated with evacuees, according to a report released yesterday.

The study, conducted by seven law firms enlisted by the Appleseed Foundation, a nonprofit political action group founded by Ralph Nader, also found that nonprofit and faith-based groups and local and state governments acted more quickly and efficiently than the federal government.

Gulf Coast evacuees in Birmingham, Ala., and Atlanta generally are doing better than those in Houston and San Antonio, the study found.

Birmingham and Atlanta received fewer evacuees, and many of them had the money and connections to flee the storm on their own.

Houston had more evacuees, most of them people who couldn't get out of New Orleans and had to be rescued after the storm hit.

The city received a lot of New Orleans's poor who did not have the resources to evacuate on their own, and many arrived with little more than the clothes they were wearing. Many were also physically or mentally ill.

Providing thousands of evacuees with housing, education, and healthcare services and jobs was a daunting task that fell largely on local governments, said David Gross, a partner at a Minneapolis law firm who helped conduct the study.

``The scope was enormous and unexpected," Gross said yesterday. Many of the short-term solutions put into place a year ago to meet evacuees' needs aren't working as long-term solutions, he said.

Generally, evacuees who landed in cities with fewer evacuees fared better, the report found.

``They were able to be absorbed into the housing system and into the health system better than those in cities that received more evacuees," said James Howell, project manager for the study.

Houston, which initially received an estimated 250,000 evacuees, now has about 150,000 living there, the study found.

In Atlanta, where about 100,000 evacuees initially were living, an estimated 70,000 to 80,000 are still there. Birmingham took in an estimated 20,000 but now is down to about 1,500.

San Antonio had a relatively small number of evacuees -- estimated at between 25,000 and 35,000. But, like Houston, it took in many poor people, many of them ill, who had to be rescued. An estimated 15,000 remain there, the study said.

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