Strains mounting for Ike evacuees

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How long will they have to stay? What is left of their homes along the Texas coastline ravaged by Hurricane Ike? What has happened to their friends and neighbors and relatives? And how much worse can it get?

Shauna Leigh, 20, arrived Friday at 1 a.m. after fleeing Galveston with her mother, Rena, and 2-month-old baby, Thomas, just a day ahead of Ike.

She stood outside a San Antonio shelter Monday morning, trying to get away from the crowds and grab a bit of fresh air as her baby lay quietly in his carriage, wrapped in a Pooh Bear top and a baby blue blanket dotted with footballs.

Leigh was among the first to arrive at the shelter; her evacuee wrist band bears the number 350. Then more and more folks started streaming in, including the many busloads of evacuees who had stayed behind for the storm. Those new arrivals receive wrist bands numbered somewhere in upper thousands, now.

"There wasn't hardly anyone in there. It was quiet, but as time progressed, more people came," said Shauna, as her mother chimed in: "Longer breakfast line. Longer lunch line. Longer dinner line."

They'd like to stay with relatives, but many of them live in Houston or elsewhere along the coast and are still without power.

"Right now we're just waiting it out, seeing what happens. I don't think I can stay here that long. There's just so many people and there's sick people, too, and I have my son," Shauna Leigh said. "I just don't want to make this a permanent home."

More than 37,000 people have been left homeless and are staying at shelters. Even more are on the way as search and rescue teams continue to round up those stranded by the storm's floodwaters. The strain is beginning to show.

Some shelters are overcrowded, food and water scarce, and there have been isolated reports of fights and arrests. State officials urged evacuees not to try to return home too early to hard-hit areas of Southeast Texas, where first responders and emergency workers are already overwhelmed and overworked.

But even as some evacuees appeared to be ignoring those pleas, others were still coming by bus from Galveston, Houston and other battered cities to nearly 300 emergency shelters set up across the state.

Pat Schmidt, 57, and her 16-year-old daughter, Marilea, were hanging out by the curb outside of the mammoth warehouse-shelter at Port San Antonio. On the ground beside them were just four bags: A small suitcase, two carry-ons and a Pier 1 shopping bag that held dirty shoes and half-empty water bottles.

They arrived on one of the many buses from Galveston at 6 a.m. Monday. The 245-mile trip from the island took more than 11 hours, delayed when other buses in their caravan broke down along the way.

"We went in and they told us they serve breakfast at 8 a.m., better get in line early," Schmidt said.

Schmidt and her daughter plan to stay with her sister-in-law in Austin, doing what they can to keep their minds off of the destruction back home. Their immediate plans meant meeting basic needs: A shower -- they haven't had one since Wednesday -- sleep, then shopping for some extra clothes. Beyond that, Schmidt couldn't say.

"They told us there'd be no power, no electricity for at least two weeks. Whenever they say we can come back, my sister-in-law is going to drive us back. But this is where we are today," she said.

"I'll cook to earn my board. We'll just hang out. I don't want to watch anymore pictures of Galveston," said Schmidt, nodding toward the entrance to the shelter. "Everyone in there was watching it, but I just can't. Not anymore. It's kind of like a dream that you're in and you know you're going to wake up. But instead of saying, `Oh, it was just a dream.' It wasn't."

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