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 Katrina evacuees shift Houston's identity 
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Location: Friendswood, TX
 Katrina evacuees shift Houston's identity
This is my home town - this is my own town! I was never so proud as that night the first bus rolled into Reliant Stadium and those poor people began arriving into my home town. We showed the world that "Texas" truly does mean "friend."

Yes, we had some criminal types and, yes, it was difficult at first - kinda big old cultcha class - ya know? Mardi Gras met Cowboy/Awl Man and it wasn't pretty at first.

I couldn't hep myself! We so seldom see good news coming from Katrina and I really get sick of all the "Houston - we have a problem" bad news articles.

So here's a feel good one.

Houston (CNN) -- A logo painted on the floor of Terrence Gasper's barbershop says it all: "New Orleans' finest."

But this isn't New Orleans. This is Houston. :mrgreen:

Six years ago this month, Gasper and most other New Orleans residents boarded buses, filled SUVs and crammed highways to escape the wrath of Hurricane Katrina. :candle

While the Louisiana city has begun to rebound, its former residents have made an indelible mark on the places they've gone -- and none greater than in Houston, where as many as 250,000 evacuees landed after the hurricane, according to some estimates.

Since then, Gasper has developed a complicated relationship with his adopted city and his beloved hometown. You can't take the 504 out of him, he says, referring to the city's area code, but he won't be moving back to New Orleans anytime soon, either.

"New Orleans is a hard place to live now," the 34-year-old says. "For the hard-working people who are trying to build wealth and establish themselves, it's a hard journey -- a tough journey."

Houston is a better place to raise families, evacuees like Gasper say, with better schools and less crime. They believe the economy here is healthier, with more jobs and higher pay. They're convinced that Houston offers more security against another devastating hurricane. :heart

The new residents have opened bookstores, restaurants and barbershops, and brought some of the flavor of New Orleans to their apartments, retirement homes and subdivisions in Texas.

"You can't never take the New Orleans out of me," Gasper says. "But I can't see myself moving back there for a long time."

At least for now, this is home.

Becoming Houstonians

The Houston mayor's office reported that 150,000 to 250,000 evacuees journeyed to Texas' largest city immediately after the storm, but researchers who have tried to document those numbers have failed.

"I was shocked," said Sean Varano, a Roger Williams University professor, who spent years researching crime and Katrina evacuees. "I queried every available source. No matter how many times and how many places I looked, I could not find this information."

What's even blurrier is how many Katrina survivors chose to stay.

Evacuees weren't counted unless they applied for assistance, and agencies stopped tracking them once they stopped receiving help. A year after the storm, the mayor's office reported as many as 90,000 displaced New Orleanians remained in Houston, but others haven't been able to come up with a number.

In 2007, the first available Census Bureau figures after Katrina counted about 40,000 residents who said they had moved to Houston from another state. The 2010 Census showed the city had grown to nearly 2.1 million people, an increase of 7.5% -- more than 145,000 -- since 2000. :mrgreen:

When the storm's fifth anniversary came last year, Mayor Annise Parker said the city will likely never know how many evacuees stayed.

Those who did are Houstonians now, she said. :clap

As Gasper sees it, Katrina forced two groups to mix: playful, laid back New Orleanians and generous, industrious Houstonians.

Houston, the sprawling, business-friendly oil city, has absorbed some of New Orleans, a compact mecca of music, merriment and food.

"We're a tight-knit community and we kind of show Houston how to have fun and party," Gasper says with a smile. "And they show us more economics and business."

During a lull at his southwest Houston barbershop, he puts down his scissors and begins to tell the story of how he left his hometown, and how it changed the course of his life.

Read more here:

The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little. - FDR

Fri Aug 12, 2011 1:07 pm
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