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Many in poll say they'll stay in Texas

Less than half say they will return to New Orleans

HOUSTON -- Fewer than half of all New Orleans evacuees living in emergency shelters here say they will move back home while two-thirds of those who want to relocate plan to settle permanently in the Houston area, according to a survey by The Washington Post, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, and the Harvard School of Public Health.

The wide-ranging poll found these survivors of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath remain physically and emotionally battered but unbroken.

They praise God and the US Coast Guard for saving them, but two weeks after the storm, nearly half still sought word about missing loved ones or close friends who may not have been as lucky.

Most already know they have no home left to return to. The overwhelming majority lack insurance to cover their losses. Few have bank accounts, savings accounts or usable credit cards. Still, nearly nine in 10 said they were ''hopeful" about the future. And while half say they feel depressed about what lies ahead, just a third say they were afraid.

The poll vividly documents the immediate and dramatic changes that Hurricane Katrina has brought to two major US cities. It also suggests that what may be occurring is a massive, and perhaps permanent, transfer of a bloc of poor people from one city to another. That may have social, economic, and political consequences that will be felt for decades, if not generations, in both communities.

Forty-three percent of these evacuees plan to return to New Orleans, the survey found. But just as many -- 44 percent -- say they will settle somewhere else, while the remainder are unsure. Many of those who are planning to return say they will be looking to buy or rent somewhere other than where they lived. Overall, only one in four say they plan to move back into their old homes, the poll found.

According to the poll, most of those who do not plan to go back to New Orleans are already living in their new hometown. Fully two in three of the 44 percent who won't return say they plan to relocate in the Houston area, the city that now is home to about 125,000 New Orleans evacuees.

A total of 680 randomly selected evacuees living temporarily in the Astrodome, Reliant Center, and George R. Brown Convention Center as well as five Red Cross shelters in the greater Houston area were interviewed Sept. 10-12 for the Post/Kaiser/Harvard survey. More than 8,000 evacuees were living in these facilities and awaiting transfer to other housing when the interviewing was conducted.

More than nine in 10 of these evacuees said they were residents of New Orleans, while the remainder said they were from the surrounding area or elsewhere in Louisiana. The margin of sampling error for the overall results is plus or minus four percentage points. Potential differences between these evacuees and those not living in shelters or those who lived elsewhere in the Gulf Coast region make it impossible to conclude that these results accurately reflect the views of all Gulf Coast residents displaced by Katrina.

The poll suggests that these evacuees will start their lives with virtually nothing. Seven in 10 do not have a savings or checking account. Just as many have no usable credit cards.

Missing, too, are the vital support networks of relatives and friends that have temporarily absorbed the bulk of those who fled the Gulf Coast storm zone: eight in 10 say they have no one that they can stay with until they get back on their feet.

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