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Last Updated: Monday, 12 September 2005, 13:35 GMT 14:35 UK
New Orleans evacuees swamp city
By Richard Allen Greene
BBC News, Baton Rouge

The estate agents of Baton Rouge are laughing - literally bursting into giggles.

The nearest city to New Orleans is bursting at the seams with evacuees who have fled Hurricane Katrina.

'No vacancies' sign in front of a Baton Rouge condominium
Every available space in Baton Rouge is full

No-one knows exactly how many of the Big Easy's 450,000 residents have ended up in Baton Rouge, 112km (70 miles) to the north-west, but estimates range from 100,000 to more than 200,000 - doubling the size of the state capital overnight.

And with all those people needing a place to stay, real estate is at a premium.

"If you wanted to call me and ask me to list a three-bedroom, two-bathroom property now, I guarantee you it will be sold in a couple of hours," estate agent Anna Burchfield says.

"Before Hurricane Katrina, in a good area with good schools, it might have taken 45 days.

"New homes in the $130,000 (71,000) range are gone. A house across the street from my $130,000 house was just sold for $204,000. It's been real sweet," she says.

Some businesspeople spotted an opportunity to make money as soon as the hurricane hit, Ms Burchfield says.

"An investor came in and bought all the starter homes" to rent out, she says.

"He paid full price for over 40 homes," she says.

Full houses

Ms Burchfield works in Livingstone parish, an upscale area just outside of Baton Rouge itself.

Property in Baton Rouge went first, she says, but by four days after the storm, "It started out here, ba-boom, ba-boom, ba-boom."

There are 14 people in my house - normally we are five
Ngandu Pius,
Baton Rouge resident
At the moment, an untold number of people are camping out with friends and family.

Ngandu Pius is a professor of French at Louisiana State University.

His eyes pop out of his head when he is asked how many people are staying with him.

"Wow!" he says. "There are 14 people in my house. Normally we are five. Nobody knows how long they will be with us."

Tracey Griffin-Robertson of New Orleans is staying with a sister in Baton Rouge. There were up to 25 people in the house at one point, she says.

Brand-new school

Sherry Brock has 10 extra people in her house - plus three cats and two dogs.

Mrs Brock is doing more than just taking in displaced people.

The principal - or headmistress - of Westdale Middle School, she spent part of last week helping set up an entire new school for children who had to flee their homes.

Westdale Middle School principal Sherry Brock
Sherry Brock helped set up an entire new school for evacuees
There was no spare capacity in the parish's middle schools, which teach 12- to 14-year-olds.

"We're re-opening a school that was closed last year," she said last week.

The school, Scotlandville Middle School, was due to begin classes on Monday, five days after the decision was taken to re-open it.

During that time, the district chose a principal and had to hire 29 teachers, an assistant principal and a guidance counsellor.

Displaced parents streamed in for days to register their children to attend school in Baton Rouge, said Marlon Cousin, an administrator with the East Baton Rouge Parish School System.

But he says the system is coping: "We're here to serve our customers," he added with a smile. "This too shall pass."

Students at Westdale Middle School in Baton Rouge board buses to go home
Baton Rouge is expecting thousands of extra schoolchildren

The city's police department is also coping, Sgt Don Kelly says.

In fact, he is keen to quash rumours of a crime wave accompanying the flood of evacuees.

"It is absolutely not true. We have not had any looting or any problems we can tie to the evacuees," he says.

But while he says there has been no increase in crime, he admits that traffic in the city has become unbearable.

"The traffic is ridiculous. We have 35-to-40% higher traffic than two weeks ago, and it is everywhere, all day long."

Expecting some of the evacuees to stay permanently, the city is planning new roads and bridges, but that will take time, he says.

"There is not another city in the history of the world that has had to deal with the kind of population increase we've had. We're making history every day.

"Every hotel room is occupied. Every apartment has been rented. A significant number of homes have multiple people. And we have the same infrastructure we had two weeks ago."




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