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BLUFFDALE - At the New Orleans Convention Center, Larry Leavell knew to avoid Sections A through E, where the troublemakers congregated. Sections F through J seemed better, with more stable evacuees of Hurricane Katrina.
"Once the sun go down, find you a wall, find you a corner and don't move," Leavell said of the survival strategy employed by his extended family of two dozen against thugs who stole from, raped and assaulted evacuees. "When the sun go down, that's when the police go down."
Now, life is a little easier. Though separated from other relatives, Leavell, his wife and four children are safe and settled into barracks at Camp Williams in Bluffdale. They are among the nearly 600 survivors of the Gulf Coast disaster who arrived Saturday and Sunday at the Army National Guard's training site.
Four planeloads of evacuees were expected to arrive in Utah on Sunday evening but only one, a JetBlue flight, had passengers. Three military transport planes that flew to Louisiana were turned away without landing because there were no more hurricane survivors ready for departure, according to Air National Guard spokesman Lt. Col. David Thomas.
The passengers who disembarked shortly after 10 p.m. were met with cheers from about 75 well-wishers on the tarmac at Salt Lake City International Airport. One woman bowed her head and said, "Thank you. This is the best birthday present ever."
The Guard probably will begin taking overflow evacuees from Texas today, Thomas said. The Lone Star State has taken in nearly a quarter of a million refugees, and Gov. Rick Perry on Sunday ordered emergency officials to initiate an airlift to take some of them to other states that have offered help.
Newcomers will join a growing community at Camp Williams.
"What we've started here is a little city, where people don't know each other," said Verdi White, head of Utah's Division of Emergency Services & Homeland Security.
Some may choose to stay in the Beehive State, but White said the goal is to help evacuees get to family members or friends. Already, a few people have flown to other locations, he said. And while no one will be rushed out of Camp Williams - officials say evacuees could be there up to four months - White said he expects most to be gone "in a matter of weeks."
On a wall inside the large receiving center, where evacuees are processed, large sheets listed Sunday's scheduled meetings and activities. Transportation requests to Houston, or elsewhere, were being gathered. The Federal Emergency Management Agency was on hand to offer assistance. Bus rides to the grocery store were on tap.
Outside, new arrivals were still getting their bearings.
Mike Fells, 50, sat on the pavement and hadn't found time to get clean clothes.
"All my clothes were stolen at the [Superdome]," he said. "This is what I've been wearing for six days."
But he wore clean strips of white gauze on his arms, which were wrapped from his hands past his elbows - courtesy of doctors he'd just seen. He'd gotten staph infections from all the bacteria that filled the Superdome, he said.
"It was destroyed - trash everywhere," he said. "I won't be surprised if they tear it down. I would."
Douglas Dampeer, 45, and his 74-year-old father had sought shelter in the Superdome and were there when Hurricane Katrina tore through.
"It sounded like they were shooting cannons at the Superdome, it was so loud," Dampeer said.
Father and son remained in the arena for six days until boarding a plane Saturday night that they thought was heading to San Antonio. Instead, they landed in Salt Lake City.
Leavell's wife, Karen Simon, also thought she was going to the southern Texas city. She's happy, though.
"It's better here than being at the convention center," she said as she rested on her bunk. "We had to loot just to live. We had to get food and water to survive."
Like this couple, Crystal Van Buren's eyes were opened to another world over the past week. That's what three nights and four days in the convention center can do to a person, she said.
"I couldn't relate to homeless people. Now I can," said the 53-year-old, shaking her head. "It was terrible . . . sleeping on the streets."
Outside the receiving center, evacuees milled about, getting their bearings.
Kevin Louis, 39, smiled about the flight that took him here.
"My first time in the air," he said. "I didn't know where I was coming to, but I loved the ride and the help that came and got us."
Help for the disaster victims is plentiful in Utah, with contributions pouring in from public agencies, private businesses, churches, charities and individuals. Mariann Geyer, chief executive officer of the Greater Salt Lake Chapter of the Red Cross, said the first thing most evacuees wanted once they arrived was a hot shower, followed by clean clothes.
They've gotten even more. In addition, the evacuees have food, water, beds, medical care, access to phones and aid in tracking down missing loved ones.
Employers already have made available 300 job openings. Representatives from the state Department of Workforce Services are assessing the skill levels of the evacuees to match them to employment opportunities and helping them with other needs, such as food stamps and unemployment benefits.
"The people of Utah are really stepping up to the plate," deputy director Christopher Love said.
Among the many donations were hundreds of sandwiches from Subway and hundreds of Quarter Pounders from McDonald's, which also sent milk, juice and Happy Meal toys. On Sunday afternoon, McDonald's employees and members of the Southern Baptist Convention were cooking dinner for the evacuees.
On the other side of Camp Williams, the Rev. France Davis of Calvary Baptist Church tended to spiritual needs. The Salt Lake City pastor, who led an afternoon service in the camp's auditorium, was joined by religious and political leaders from around the state who came to offer their support.
"Faith is the only thing they have left. It's the best thing they have left," Davis said before the service began. "It's absolutely essential. Without it, people have little hope."
About 400 people packed the auditorium, most of them Utahns who came to sing, pray and be with those who were suffering.
"These are our brothers and sisters," said Manala Bryant, of Sandy. "We want to show our love."
Tribune reporter Derek P. Jensen contributed to this story.