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Last Updated: Sunday, 4 September 2005, 17:13 GMT 18:13 UK
Katrina Britons begin to return
Survivors Zoe Smith 20, from Liverpool, Sarah Yorkston, 21, from Bath, and Jane Wheeldon from South Wales  at Gatwick Airport

British survivors of Hurricane Katrina have started arriving back in the UK, after being rescued from New Orleans.

They are among thousands finally being evacuated from the city, after days in appalling conditions in rescue centres.

Meanwhile, fears are growing for a further 140 to 150 Britons who are thought to have been in the city when the storm struck and are still missing.

And the Ministry of Defence has said it is sending 500,000 ration packs to the hurricane-affected area, for survivors.

Thousands are thought to have died as a result of the storm, which devastated Louisiana and Mississippi.

Rescuers are scouring the city after what has been called the largest emergency airlift in US history.

Fears grow

About 20 Britons evacuated from the city's Superdome have already flown home, while others await flights.

I was on edge all the time. We kept thinking the lights were going to go out. It was a pretty nerve-wracking time
Will Nelson

British officials say they have helped more than 30 Britons, although some UK survivors criticised the embassy's response.

One official said it had not yet been possible to get into the city to search for those still missing.

He warned that the longer they remained unaccounted for, the more fears grow for their safety.

Eddie Kettle, from Plymouth in Devon, said on Sunday he was still waiting to hear word from his son Ryan, who lives near Gulfport, Mississippi. He had not spoken to him since last Sunday, before the hurricane struck.

"Things are clearing up now, they are sending teams into the area and they have Ryan's name," he said

'Pushing and shoving'

Will Nelson, 21, arrived at Gatwick Airport on Sunday morning after spending five days in the "pretty intimidating" Superdome.

He said: "Everyone was pushing and shoving and shouting. It escalated into chaos really. Everyone was getting more desperate. Everyone was running out of food."

He said international survivors stuck together after being terrified by stories of rapes, stabbings and a suicide in the dome.

There are still people missing out here and nothing is being done
Wayne Henry

Adam Friend, 21, of Exeter, told BBC News he felt unsafe, saying: "It turned into a race issue in there...it was only a minority of the people that did it, but they made us feel very unsafe, throwing bottles at us.

"The girls that were with us were constantly getting groped and stuff and there was sexual abuse."

Sir Nicholas Young, chief executive of the British Red Cross, urged Britons to give money to help those affected by the disaster.

"Katrina devastated an area the size of Great Britain.

"Lives have been shattered and livelihoods lost. We are doing all that we can to help our sister organisation the American Red Cross meet people's immediate needs."

The US State Department said it had no figures for the number of foreigners missing.

An international consulate centre has opened next to the Houston Astrodome, where 19 countries are ready to provide shelter and identity documents for their citizens.

'Flat out'

Criticising the UK embassy response, Mr Friend said: "I have never known a more useless bunch of people in my life. The press managed to gain access to the Superdome but they couldn't."

Wayne Henry 48, who flew to America to find his son, Peter, was also critical.

He said: "I have no confidence in the British government. They are not doing enough for people out here," he told BBC News.

British Consul General Judith Slater said she was "disappointed" by criticism as her staff had been working "flat out" to help stranded Britons, meeting them from buses, paying for accommodation and helping organise transport home.

She said staff had been working with 27 Britons evacuated to Dallas and a further 12 taken to Houston.

The 500,000 ration packs being sent by the MoD - armoured metal boxes which contain enough food for 24 hours - will be flown to the US on Monday morning.

Relatives of Britons in the areas when Katrina struck can call a UK helpline: 0207 008 0000 or contact the British consulate in Houston on 001 713 659 6270.


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