Jane Blocher, executive director of the Douglas County Red Cross, said she had seen many e-mails about disasters from national Red Cross headquarters but never one like the message she received Thursday seeking volunteers to aid Hurricane Katrina victims.
The e-mail warned: "All areas of assignment are horrendous ... extreme hardship ... There is, and will be, NO electricity, thus NO air conditioning, no potable water, very limited cell phone coverage and no hard line (telephone) coverage."
"I have never seen words like 'horrendous' or 'extreme hardship' underlined and bolded in an e-mail," Blocher said. "This is not an assignment for sissies. You have to be tough."
Douglas County Red Cross has created special training sessions for area volunteers willing to head south for hurricane relief.
The two three-hour sessions can accommodate 25 people. But more training sessions can be formed if enough volunteers come forward, Blocher said.
There already were 25 volunteers signed up for training by Thursday. Bill Brubaker was one of them.
He said he thought he had what it took to help the relief effort. He spent 32 years working for the Lawrence-Douglas County Fire & Medical and has spent the past year working for Douglas County Emergency Management.
"I've been in public safety all my life, and you can't get it out of your blood. There's a need, and I have some skills," he said.
He said he heard Blocher on the radio Thursday talking about the need for volunteers to be deployed to hurricane-damaged areas. He signed up for training sessions, which will be held Wednesday and Sept. 12.
Because Brubaker already has had CPR and first-aid training, Blocher said he should be going soon after the sessions for a three-week assignment.
"The biggest challenge they will face is hearing the stories of the people we are assisting," Blocher said. "It's heart wrenching. When they see firsthand the impact, it will be gut wrenching. I think it will be a life-changing experience for them."
Blocher said she would like to send 100 volunteers from Lawrence.
"I think we're up to the challenge. This is the biggest relief operation that our organization has ever undertaken," she said. "It's a huge challenge, but the good news is there's been an outpouring from people who feel the need to go down there and help make a difference."
Getting mail through to those in the hurricane-damaged zones is dicey at best.
"It's pretty much a dead shot trying right now," said Judy Raney, Lawrence's postmaster. "First, most people don't even have a way to receive the mail."
The United States Postal Service has suspended Express mail, which is one-day guaranteed delivery, to several ZIP codes in the affected areas. Mail will be held somewhere near its destination until routes open again, Raney said.
Federal Express and United Parcel Service issued statements discouraging packages to Louisiana and Mississippi.
Lawrence travel agents have been advising people against trying to travel to the hurricane zones.
Anne Walters, general manager for Adventure Travel in Lawrence, said: "All of the airports are closed, and we highly discourage anyone trying to get down there now."
"Most insurance consumers in Kansas will not even feel it," predicted Charlene Bailey, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Insurance Department.
Insurance rates are set by the department based on events of previous years, so any major disaster takes time before it is passed on to customers in a premium increase, she said. Only customers who buy insurance from a larger company that sells insurance in Louisiana or another state affected are likely to see an increase down the road, Bailey said.
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