NEW ORLEANS — Weary refugees left this storm- and flood-ravaged city and sought shelter in Utah late Saturday, with more than 150 arriving on a commercial airline and more expected to come in on military aircraft.
Those evacuees touched down in Salt Lake City on a chartered JetBlue airliner at 7 p.m. as National Guardsmen waited to usher them onto buses to travel to Camp Williams south of Bluffdale. Three more National Guard planes were expected to fly in overnight with another 150 evacuees.
In New Orleans, military planes descended one by one upon the damaged Louis Armstrong Airport. As one helicopter landed to bring evacuees to safety, another took off into the Louisiana sun.
A long line of refugees waited on the tarmac to board any plane to safety. The Utah Air National Guard picked up approximately 50 refugees Saturday night and early today, but the aircraft had not arrived in Utah by press time.
About 50 people were loaded onto a plane late Saturday, but when told they were going to Salt Lake City, nearly 20 people got off. "There's nothing to do in Salt Lake City, nothing," said Sandra Lawrence, 32, who stayed on the plane. Most of the people on board had thought they were going to Houston.
Just outside the airport, a cement factory showed the force of the hurricane that hit this city a week ago. While one tower stood firm, the other collapsed from the wind. The rooftops of almost all of the airport buildings were torn and their pieces scattered on the ground.
Fifteen soldiers from the Utah National Guard's 19th Special Forces Group 1st Battalion arrived in the flooded city Saturday afternoon, joining 20 other Guard members who landed in New Orleans on Friday.
The soldiers deployed on Saturday are specially trained in water rescues and will assist in the massive search-and-rescue effort throughout New Orleans. The group brought with them Zodiac boats, kayaks and scuba gear. They were expected to be in the city for at least two weeks.
"We feel really anxious to go in and help out," said a Utah sergeant named Holmes who declined to give his first name. "It's a huge tragedy."
Just outside the airport, thousands waited to catch a flight out of the city. There was a man with no shoes or shirt; his arm wrapped in a bandage. A few feet away, a woman walked up and down the long line of refugees in a panic, shouting "Bernice!"
One by one, people keep coming up to military personnel on the other side of the gate asking for help. Water bottles and trash littered the road.
Some sat on suitcases, others on the ground. The entire baggage claim center of the airport had been turned into a triage area.
Utah Sgt. Maj. Gary Johnson said his group was told to prepare themselves for mayhem outside the airport.
Contributing: Erin Stewart, Deseret Morning News