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School bus comandeered by renegade refugees first to arrive at Astrodome
by By SALATHEIA BRYANT and CYNTHIA LEONOR GARZA Thursday, Sep. 01, 2005 at 10:47 PM

Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle The first busload of New Orleans refugees to reach the Reliant Astrodome overnight was a group of people who commandeered a school bus in the city ravaged by Hurricane Katrina and drove to Houston looking for shelter.


Jabbar Gibson, 20, said police in New Orleans told him and others to take the school bus and try to get out of the flooded city.

Gibson drove the bus from the flooded Crescent City, picking up stranded people, some of them infants, along the way. Some of those on board had been in the Superdome, among those who were supposed to be evacuated to Houston on more than 400 buses Wednesday and today. They couldn't wait.

The group of mostly teenagers and young adults pooled what little money they had to buy diapers for the babies and fuel for the bus.

After arriving at the Astrodome at about 10:30 p.m., however, they initially were refused entry by Reliant officials who said the aging landmark was reserved for the 23,000 people being evacuated from the Louisiana Superdome.

"Now, we don't have nowhere to go," Gibson said. "We heard the Astrodome was open for people from New Orleans. We ain't ate right, we ain't slept right. They don't want to give us no help. They don't want to let us in."

Milling about the Reliant entrance, Sheila Nathan, 38, told her teary-eyed toddler that she was too tired to hold him.

"I'm trying to make it a fairy tale so they won't panic," said Nathan, who had four grandchildren in tow. "I have to be strong for them."

After about 20 minutes of confusion and consternation, Red Cross officials announced that the group of about 50 to 70 evacuees would be allowed into the Astrodome.

All were grateful to be out of the devastation and misery that had overtaken their hometown.

"I feel good to get out of New Orleans," said Demetrius Henderson, who got off the bus with his wife and three children. Many of those around him alternated between excited, cranky and nervous, clutching suitcases or plastic garbage bags of clothes.

They looked as bedraggled as their grueling ride would suggest: 13 hours on the commandeered bus driven by a 20-year-old man. Watching bodies float by as they tried to escape the drowning city. Picking up people along the way. Three stops for fuel. Chugging into Reliant Park, only to be told initially that they could not spend the night.

Every bit worth it.

"We took the bus and got out of the city. We were trying to get out of the city," James Hickerson said.

Several passengers on the bus said they took the matter into their own hands earlier Wednesday because they felt rescuers and New Orleans authorities were too slow in offering help.

"They are not worried about us," said Makivia Horton, 22, who is five months pregnant.

salatheia.bryant@chron.com

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