The evacuation before Katrina was complicated in part because 120,000 New Orleans residents did not have cars in which to leave town. Many had no place to go to out of town, said Ivor Van Heerden, director of the Hurricane Public Health Center at Louisiana State.
Even if only half of those ordered out of their San Diego County homes had left, however, more than a quarter of a million people would still have been on the move earlier this week. Where they all landed remains uncertain.
At the peak of evacuations, 27,000 people had checked into public shelters, including Qualcomm Stadium, according to emergency operations officials. With approximately 10,000 available hotel rooms in the county, evacuees quickly filled them, Others pitched tents in parking lots, slept in their cars or took hotel rooms as far north as Los Angeles. Many other residents were able to stay with nearby friends or relatives.
Other San Diego County residents left the area. On Wednesday, as some orders were lifted, the California Department of Transportation received numerous calls from San Diegans who had gone to Las Vegas and Arizona, wondering if the roads were open for a trip back home.
Ed Cartagena, a spokesman for Caltrans in San Diego, moved his own family to Las Vegas when flames approached his Paradise Hills neighborhood.
"I just took them out of town," Cartagena said Wednesday. "They're in Las Vegas right now."
City and county officials are proud of the orderly way in which a population the size of Portland packed up children, pets and possessions to find shelter.
"People heeded our calls," said Bill Harris, spokesman for the city of San Diego. "We saw people evacuate when they were told to do so . . . and our rescue personnel were able to get to the fire lines. They were not impeded by traffic."
Times staff writers Robert J. Lopez, Alex Pham, Garrett Therolf and Richard Winton contributed to this report.