Are We Happy Campers?
In the comment thread for Welcome To George's Holiday Camp, The Old Man asked me on September 8, 2005 at 01:34 PM: "Pessimist, assuming the real truth comes out on this subject in the future, will you please report on this again. Just the facts. I have faith in you."
I said I would post what I found, and this post is the fulfillment of that promise. I reserve the right to return to this topic at a later date.
Allowing for the fact that I am not in the various regions, and cannot verify for myself the tenor of these reports, the range of preparations for evacuees stretch from very welcoming to draconian. Allow me to begin with the worst example I've yet found, and work up toward the good so I can end on a more positive basis.
There is a serious disconnect with this first example:
"Welcome to Arkansas. We’re glad to see you," a volunteer said as the first evacuee stepped from a Fort Smith school bus at the center. Volunteers in the reception center applauded as they entered the building. "The hospitality here is tremendous," said Joseph Guzman Jr. of New Orleans.
... who are being processed at Fort Chaffee and bused to church camps and other ... In Pine Bluff, police arrested a person believed to be an evacuee outside the ...- Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (subscription), AR - Sep 7, 2005 [If anyone has the rest of the text of this post, please email it to me.]
There may be a reason for this 'precaution': [From the first link]:
Some residents expressed concern about the evacuees being taken to Fort Chaffee, remembering the Cubans who had rioted at Chaffee in 1980, causing about $4 million damage.
Fort Smith City Administrator Bill Harding said Col. Hunt assured them "all appropriate measures would be take to provide security for the citizens of this area." They said 42 military police were being brought in from Little Rock. Also, several Sebastian County sheriff’s deputies were on hand during Saturday’s reception. Sheriff Frank Atkinson said his department will patrol the barracks area while the evacuees are at Fort Chaffee.
The good news is, this may only be a temporary condition:
Slightly more than two dozen evacuees remain at Fort Chaffee on Thursday afternoon, with no signs of the military base receiving more evacuees, according to base officials. Those who remain are awaiting transportation to their next location, and Gurney said any accommodations that can be arranged are being done. "Of course some of the people left the base without going through the process," Gurney said.
There is one more troublesome example from Oklahoma which merits some attention. The better examples will then follow (begins with 'The Better Half'). More below the fold.
One of the more emotional reports comes out of Falls Creek, OK (via abovetopsecret.com):
From the moment I heard about Falls Creek being scheduled to receive refugees I had two thoughts run through my mind:
1. What a beautiful place to be able to stay while trying to get your life back in order.
Falls Creek is nestled in the Arbuckle Mountains of south central Oklahoma. One of the more beautiful regions of the state. It would be a peaceful and beautiful place to try to start mending emotionally, and begin to figure what you're going to do next.
2. What a terrible location to be when you're trying to get your life back in order.
Falls Creek is very secluded and absolutely no where near a population center. The closest route from Falls Creek to a connecting road is three miles on a winding narrow road called "High Road" .... After battling that 3 miles over mountains, you'll find yourself about 5 miles from the nearest town, Davis, Oklahoma, population ca. 2000. This is no place to start a new life.
This is a very long post, and has many photographs, so if you concur (like you have any more choice than many evacuees have had with their choice of destination), I'll cut to the highlights and conclusions, and let you read the full tale about this woman's FEMA adventure on your own:
All of sudden the landscape changed from picturesque mountainous rural America, to something foreign to me as we approached the rear gate of the camp. Two Oklahoma State Patrol vehicles and four Oklahoma Troopers guarded the gate.
The foods I had purchased were mainly snacks, but my mother - God bless her soul - had gone all out with fresh vegetables, fruits, canned goods, breakfast cereals, rice, and pancake fixings. That's when we got the next message: They will not be able to use the kitchen.
The occupants of the camp cannot leave the camp for any reason. If they leave the camp they may never return.
This isn't the only example of this FEMA directive:
Many Pearlington residents preferred to stay with what remained of their homes, each of which had been flooded by a massive storm surge. Others were still too disoriented to make the decision to relocate just 10 days after the disaster, described by one survivor as "hell on Earth." Some residents expressed interest in the prospect, but were cautioned by Federal Emergency Management Agency representatives who told them that leaving without registering with the agency could mean the forfeiture of future support.]
Many evacuees are religious and practice their faith. How well will this following tidbit play with the televangelicals that make up the bulk of King George's remaining faith-based voter base?
My mother then asked if the churches would be allowed to come to their cabin and conduct services if the occupants wanted to attend. The response was "No ma'am. You don't understand. Your church no longer owns this building. This building is now owned by FEMA and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. They have it for the next 5 months."
Is FEMA now in the religion business as well? We'll see. Televangelicals, this is your cue! The faith you restore in the religious community of America could be my own!
But I digress.
Any way you cut it, things are going to be secretive here in Falls Creek:
When we got through and were headed outside the host says to me and my daughter, "How did you get in here?" I told him we came in through the back gate. He replies, "No, HOW did you get in here? No one who doesn't have credentials showing is supposed to be in here." (I had noticed all the "hosts" had two or three badges hanging around their necks.) I told him it might have had something to do with the fact my daughter was snapping pictures of the OHP presence at the gate. He then tells us, "Well, starting in the morning NO ONE comes in."
This is supposed to be a camp for evacuees, and yet the following observation has to make one pause:
There were buses coming in the front gate at about a rate of 1 every 2 or 3 minutes. We could hear them below us as we walked back up the hill. We could also see their white tops through the trees.
Before I get flamed for taking this as more than it 'is' (and we know from the Clinton Impeachment how important the specific meaning of that word - 'is' - is!), 142 other blogs have taken this as a serious issue and covered it. They feel, as I do, that such an oddly-managed operation merits the oversight that a free society can provide. (We'll save discussion of the issue of whether we remain a free country for another post.)
But there are realistic limits to what oversight we can provide. Once again, I will have to defer to those who live in the region near Davis, OK to keep tabs on this situation and report on developments. Hopefully, we have a reader there.
The Better Half
I promised you some good news concerning the efforts taken on behalf of the evacuees. It begins here.
Other than Fort Chaffee, things appear to be going well in Fort Smith, Arkansas:
As many as 50,000 evacuees could already be in Arkansas, said Alan Gibson, a spokesman for the American Red Cross of Greater Arkansas. The state launched Operation K. A. R. E., or Katrina Assistance and Relief Effort, on Friday. It also posted an Internet Web site at www.kare.arkansas.gov, and opened a toll-free number at (877) 293-5273 to provided information to evacuees.
"We’re not wanting to stick people in mass shelters unless it’s absolutely necessary," said Marshall Watson, coordinator of the Benton County Emergency Management. His office secured the use of the 900-bed Arkansas Baptist Assembly in Siloam Springs and plan to use closed nursing homes and retirement home facilities in Bentonville and Rogers.
Washington County Coordinator John Luther said they expect to house up to 300 people. Luther said the 41 people being housed at the Harvey Jones Wellness and Community Center in Springdale were moved to the Mount Sequoyah shelter Saturday. Washington County officials plan to open the old jail and administration building to house people once the Mount Sequoyah Conference and Retreat Center in Fayetteville is filled.
Let me state clearly here that I recognize the use of the jail for evacuees is a last resort should Washington County need the space.
There is also an interesting positive development underway in Fort Payne, AL:
The Federal Emergency Management Agency approved DeSoto State Park as an emergency shelter for Hurricane Katrina evacuees. The park, on Lookout Mountain in DeKalb County, is one of two area state parks that will serve as an evacuee shelter site – the other being Bucks Pocket State Park. DeSoto has 78 modern campsites, 22 family college units and 25 rooms; Bucks Pocket has 36 modern campsites.
Alabama’s state parks have a total of 2,500 campsites and more than 350 rooms in lodges, chalets and cabins across the state. Modern campsites have water and electrical hookups, and some have sewer hook-ups as well.
Additional shelter is also being made available through other agencies. The Boy Scouts of America have opened a local campsite and the local Red Cross chapter is working to help make additional shelter a reality in Fort Payne. The Greater Alabama Council of the Boy Scouts announced Thursday it would open up local camps and camping facilities to provide immediate, short-term shelter for families displaced by Hurricane Katrina, including Camp Comer on Lookout Mountain.
Linda Clark, director of the DeKalb County chapter of the American Red Cross, said 40 rooms at the Fountains assisted living facility in Fort Payne would be made available to evacuees for $100 per week, and other local apartment buildings would also be made available for temporary rental. Clark said some local families have also contacted the Red Cross office and expressed a willingness to open temporarily open their homes to evacuees.
DeKalb County Tourism Director Patty Tucker said there are also currently 100 hotel rooms available for rent in the county.
A complete listing of local accommodations can be found at www.tourdekalb.com/accommodations.htm.
Clearly, the people of Alabama - whatever their other political faults - take the Christian message of aiding those in need very seriously, and are to be commended for their efforts. They are not alone:
Miracle Place pastor Ricky Sinclair said that by Saturday, the church was sheltering more than 500 people in a converted strip shopping center owned by the church and that hundreds more were arriving each day. Many, he said, were on the edge of breakdowns after having lost everything: their homes, their jobs and, in some cases, even family members. "They're desperate; they're in disarray," he said. "They have lost families -- even mothers have lost their babies."
He said the emotional crisis has been worsened by the conditions evacuees have had to contend with since the passing of the storm. "They're delirious," he said. "When people go four or five days without sleep -- they've seen rapes, bodies -- they're very upset."
Maj. Joseph Knobel said the Salvation Army was also preparing to shelter as many as 300 victims of the storm at its Florida campground outside Starke. "Our thinking is that we will probably get some kind of influx into our area," he said. "But if I were them, I think I'd go west. We still have hurricanes here."
On the surface, this might sound like a callous comment. But with Ophelia churing back into hurricane strength off the Atlantic coast of Florida, that isn't the case; it is a realistic psychological assessment. Luckily for those who know that they aren't willing to face another hurricane, there is a place they can go that wants them:
Arizona is housing several hundred evacuees, and those who stay long-term would be welcome in some industries, said Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon. "Phoenix has a shortage of construction workers, so I think a lot of people will stay."
Where They Are Sheltered
The State of Texas has been the source of much grief over the years, but there is no denying the large numbers of evacuees being aided there:
Houston Mayor Bill White estimated that more than 100,000 evacuees had arrived in his city, more than the Astrodome and other makeshift shelters could accommodate. Most of the 100,000 evacuees in Houston are staying at hotels, three dozen shelters run by the Red Cross and church groups, or with family members.
The Astrodome, with 15,000 people living on its concrete floor, was declared full by the county fire marshal Thursday night. He had originally declared it full when the population reached 11,000, but White overrode that decision to allow an additional 4,000 inside the covered stadium where food, showers, cots, clean clothes and medical attention awaited.
An additional 3,000 evacuees were put into the Reliant Arena next door. The convention center was being prepared Friday to house up to 11,000 people.
Freeway signs that a day earlier had welcomed refugees were switched to a different message: "Houston shelters are full. Go to Dallas or San Antonio."
Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced that 25,000 evacuees would be housed at Reunion Arena in Dallas and 7,000 others at a former Air Force base in San Antonio. In addition, 1,000 Texas National Guard members have been ordered to help with shelter operations at cities throughout the state.
Despite our political differences with those in control of the State of Texas, we have to commend their efforts on behalf of the evacuees as well.
While smaller than Texas, and with trepidation expressed by some residents, the State of Arkansas is stepping up as well:
The Department of Health and Human Sevices (DHHS) is coordinating evacuee camps for Hurricane Katrina victims. Beds have been prepared for 100 evacuees at MoArk Christian Camp in Naylor, Mo., 50 evacuees at the Piggott Community Center and 30 evacuees at the House of Prayer Family Life Center in Corning.
Fulton County, AR
Fulton County is setting up a shelter inside the Miller/Hickinbotham building at the Fulton County Fairgrounds. The shelter will house 40 evacuees and should be ready for use by Sept. 12, Fulton County Judge Charles Willett said.
Fulton County Emergency Coordinator Al Roork said there are 42 registered evacuees in Fulton County who are staying with friends and family. Roork said authorities had not placed any evacuees in Fulton County as of press time. [Also] as of press time no buses of evacuees were scheduled to arrive in Fulton County, Roork said. For evacuees sent to Fulton County before the shelter is ready a temporary shelter has been set up at Immanuel Baptist Church in Salem.
Fort Smith, Arkansas:
The first of an expected 20,000 Hurricane Katrina evacuees arrived at Fort Chaffee on Saturday, exhausted and hungry but safe.
Gov. Mike Huckabee said in a Little Rock news conference Saturday that he expected that Fort Chaffee would have about 2,000 evacuees by midnight Saturday. Huckabee said Arkansas probably will see as many as 20,000 more evacuees.
State officials also are working to appoint a "mayor" and "head of security" for each of the state-designated shelters, Quinn said. He said those people will be in place before anyone is moved to other areas. "You have to achieve some order," Quinn said.
This last point is due some discussion. As I presented above, Falls Creek OK is beginning to look like a detention center (although, again, depending upon how things are handled there, this could prove to be a mis-impression. Let's hope this is the case for all concerned.), while in other places, such things are bing handled much more delicately:
Caddo Valley Police Chief Toby Garner ... is working to provide security at Camp Couchdale, near Hot Springs. Another Caddo Valley officer, Blake Zavadil, is directing security at Spring Lake Camp at Lonsdale.
Garner and Zavadil are working to recruit their forces and get all their equipment operating smoothly. Garner said he needed to recruit enough officers to provide two officers per shift each day. Since each "chief" at each camp is allowed to hire his own staff, many other local officers may also be involved. "We've got a lot of good people in this area in law enforcement," Caddo Valley Mayor Alan Dillavou said. "They will work well together."
I state here clearly that two officers per shift is not a concentration camp staff. In fact, I commend these local officials for their restraint. Considering other comments being made in Arkansas, this effort might have gone very differently:
Fulton County, AR
Fulton County Emergency Coordinator Al Roork said rumors that bus loads of evacuees have been arriving in the Fulton County and adjacent counties are untrue. Residents in Fulton County who are uneasy about the prospect of a large number of evacuees in the county should not panic, Roork said. “None of the 17 counties in northcentral and northeast Arkansas have received bus loads of evacuees yet.”
Again, these officials are to be commended for their restraint. They are, admittedly dealing with much smaller numbers than this group is going to be:
Camp Minden, a former ammunition plant on nearly 14,000 acres in Doyline, could soon become a one-stop Hurricane Katrina evacuee shelter designed to consolidate ongoing local relief efforts. There are hardened shelters and barracks at Camp Minden and ample room for tents. There's space for as many as 10,000 hurricane refugees. Similar consolidation camps are being planned at Camp Beauregard and Fort Polk in central Louisiana, officials said Friday.
Bossier and Caddo officials have been asked by Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco to inventory potential shelter sites. Caddo is ready to provide an armory in Vivian and a building at North Caddo Industrial Development Park between Oil City and Vivian, Parish Administrator Bill Hanna said Friday. But "the direction they're going in now is the ammunition plant (Camp Minden) at Doyline. They've received the OK."
But the ugly head of FEMA Bu$hCo rears once again:
The federal government is looking to correct its scattershot approach to sheltering thousands of evacuees uprooted by floodwaters in hurricane-devastated areas of south Louisiana. Homeland Security is working with the American Red Cross to coordinate a shelter consolidation plan. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has the final say, officials said.
The excuses are being laid into place by those to whom tha blame may later be directed:
Consolidated camps will relieve the strain on government and support services, which are working to provide for the medical, security and other essential needs of nearly 7,000 evacuees in Shreveport-Bossier City alone. There are nearly 1,000 hurricane refugees scattered throughout Webster.
"The beauty is they have infrastructure already in place. Our assets wouldn't be spread all over the place, and it would help alleviate some of the security needs that have put a strain on police and the sheriff," said Liz Swaine, executive assistant to Shreveport Mayor Keith Hightower. "One facility certainly makes more sense. But as far as the time line, that's totally out of our hands."
The decision also would be made by "higher ups" who include the military, area representatives and senators and other politicians, said Bobby Igo, chief deputy of the Webster sheriff's office. "They will have to make that call."
Are they also the ones making these calls?
When hurricane survivor Ronald Smith boarded a plane in New Orleans on Tuesday, he was told he was heading for Texas. Instead, he ended up in Illinois. And evacuee Evelyn Jenkins, 65, left New Orleans on Tuesday night not knowing where her plane would touch down. "Goodness," she said, pondering her new surroundings Wednesday afternoon in Tinley Park, Ill. "They really meant it when they said they were going to take us out of New Orleans. They took us clean out of Louisiana."
Butch Kinerney, a FEMA spokesman, confirmed that people boarding planes in New Orleans do not have a choice in their destination. FEMA is "moving 235,400 people, and we're trying to put them in safe shelter, and luxury is not an option," Kinerney said. "We say, `You're getting on a plane, and we're going to take you to City X,'" Kinerney said.
To be fair to Mr. Kinerney, FEMA does have a huge job on its hands, its ability to deal with it made infinitely worse by interference for political and economic reasons by the Bu$hCo White House, but I'm not about to open up that particular can of worms any further in this post. There is, however, an example I can present that clearly points out FEMA's shortcomings in this disaster:
Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, 600 people had been placed temporarily in a closed school through the city's Project Brotherly Love, established for hurricane victims.
Ending On A High Note
As I promised to post everything I found, good and bad, I am going to end this with stories of personal effort to ease the plight of the evacuees:
Four police officers from Walpole -- 40 percent of the town's force -- are traveling to New Orleans to help restore order to the flooded city. They will leave Thursday and will drive 25 hours in shifts to reach Gonzolaz, La. Their jobs could be anything from crowd control at the evacuee camps to collecting dead bodies.
The officers said they know they are going into a dangerous situation, and they are apprehensive.
We salute the officers of Walpole. We also tip our titanium tam o'shanter toward this man:
Gilbert Arenas added his considerable presence and financial muscle to the Hurricane Katrina relief effort at the D.C. Armory this week, delivering $18,000 worth of clothing and toiletries to the makeshift evacuee center. "You can see what they have been through by the look on their faces," the 23-year-old NBA All-Star says. "I'm just trying to cheer them up."
Professional athletes routinely see their foibles displayed in big, bold headlines in the newspaper, as we lament their sense of entitlement and lack of discipline outside their insulated venues. But we rarely read of their charitable acts, of which there are many. Oh, we may hear of an athlete giving to this or that cause, in some sort of distant, tax-deductible way.
Mr. Arenas went there to show a familiar face, to show that he cares, to provide a momentary tonic to the pain and uncertainty. He did not have to do that, of course. He could have written a check and sent others to do the work. He could have held a press conference and puffed out his chest and urged others to do the same. Instead, Mr. Arenas expressed his humanity in the flesh. In this way, he has not lost his connection to those who have so much less than him. He keeps it real in a positive way.
That's so much more than we can say The Red Crass have done collectively for Katrina's Kids!
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