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Refugees swell Baton Rouge
The Washington Post
BATON ROUGE, La. — Seventy miles west of New Orleans, the state capital of Baton Rouge and its surrounding parish received its own storm surge overnight Wednesday: a huge wave of displaced people, dragging their anger, misery and desperation along with them.
In one day, this city has become the largest in Louisiana, and grim local officials predicted it would double in size, to about 800,000, permanently. "The Baton Rouge we live in and grew up in is no longer," City Councilman Mike Walker said. "These people are here to stay, perhaps forever."
Police Chief Jeff Leduff said buses and volunteer drivers Wednesday night began picking up stranded New Orleans residents from the highways and then "just dropping them off wherever they see a gaggle of lights, any neighborhood, any store."
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About 3,000 refugees suddenly appeared about midnight on the campus of Louisiana State University, where a shelter already was at capacity. They were turned away. Most of those 3,000 made their way to the emergency rooms of the area's three biggest hospitals, where "they created extreme chaos and disturbance" throughout the night, said Dr. Louis Minsky, medical director for East Baton Rouge parish.
There were reports of attempted carjackings at 24-hour gas stations. Authorities decided to impose a 10 p.m. cutoff for gas sales.
Sheriff's deputies were dispatched as armed guards for grocery warehouses, and police stepped up around-the-clock controls downtown, where Gov. Kathleen Blanco, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Federal Emergency Management Agency director Michael Brown are located.
With a new month beginning yesterday, hundreds of the newly homeless and poor converged on the area's food-stamp offices to start applications. "People are showing up with suitcases and suitcases of cash, offering to buy houses and real estate on the spot," said Walker, who is also a real-estate broker.
On top of all that, 55,000 customers remain without power in the parish, the schools remain closed through Tuesday and stores are overrun.
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