NEW ORLEANS — Finally, the streets were almost empty.
Nearly a week after Hurricane Katrina desolated New Orleans, thousands of survivors sped out of town Saturday on buses carrying them away from the horrific refuges they found here.
Military authorities had cleared the Louisiana Superdome by the middle of the afternoon, freeing the last of the 20,000 residents who had been stranded in filth and muck since Katrina descended on the city on Monday.
The downtown convention center, where thousands more had swarmed the streets all week, looked like a ghost shantytown, with abandoned mattresses, left-behind shoes and piles of garbage but few people. Soldiers roamed through the vacant city, picking up anyone left — mostly those too old, too sick or too exhausted by the weeklong ordeal to board a bus on their own.
As they left their ruined city, survivors were badly shaken by what they had endured.
"Write my name down, I got a fine name for a book," said Joseph Wilkerson, 32, from the still-flooded 9th Ward, as he moved through the line for a bus out of town. "You want to hear the name of my book? Don't you use it — 'A Slow Walk Through Hell.' "