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Archive for Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Hurricane Katrina briefs

September 7, 2005

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Thousands to Kansas

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius on Tuesday sought federal emergency assistance, saying that upward of 5,000 evacuees from Hurricane Katrina may come to Kansas.

"Supplementary federal assistance is necessary to save lives, protect property, public health and safety and to lessen the overall impact of this effort on the evacuees and the state of Kansas," Sebelius said.

Sebelius also has ordered that Kansas flags be flown at half-staff through sunset Sept. 20 "to pay respect to the hundreds of thousands of victims subjected to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina."

She said the evacuees needed much help.

"In addition to our respect, they need our support, our generosity and our prayers," she said.

Both the Federal Emergency Management Agency and state of Texas, where nearly 250,000 evacuees have arrived, have requested that Kansas accept people left homeless by the hurricane.

On Thursday, Sebelius had declared a state of emergency in Kansas to pave the way for setting up shelters.

Utility crews respond

A contingent of seven four-man crews from Westar Energy Inc. were in Louisiana on Tuesday restoring power to the small town of Labadieville, about 70 miles west of New Orleans.

Bill Heins, of Emporia, director of the operation, said the damage to the town was not nearly as bad as what he had seen on television in New Orleans.

"It looks more like a good-old fashioned Kansas windstorm," Heins said.

The crews were expected to move in closer to New Orleans as the host utility company Entergy Inc. requested help, he said.

But Heins said some of the evacuees had come through the town and looked desperate.

"They just don't know what their next issue is going to be. In my 30-plus years of utility work, I've never seen anything like it," he said.

But, he said, the people of Labadieville have been gracious and appreciative to the Kansans, who are working 16-hour days. One neighborhood made a Westar crew a dinner of crawfish and gumbo cooked on propane stoves, he said.

Bus drivers help

Two bus drivers with the Lawrence Transit System are in Gulf of Mexico emergency zones assisting in the recovery effort in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Roger Lee and Jerome Younger left Lawrence on Saturday to drive shuttles from medical facilities to outlying areas affected by the hurricane and subsequent flooding, officials with MV Transportation, the city's transportation provider, said Tuesday.

MV was called last week by authorities in the emergency zones requesting help. MV responded by sending 50 vehicles and 75 personnel from across the nation.

Lee and Younger, both Lawrence residents, are drivers on the T fixed-route bus system. They will be in the emergency zones for about three weeks.

"They stepped forward without hesitation, were well prepared and ready to go with very short notice," said Mike Sweetan, general manager for MV. "We are all very, very proud of them."

Guard deployments

Maj. Gen. Tod Bunting, commander of the Kansas National Guard, said that by today 230 state Guardsmen would be deployed to the Gulf Coast - the bulk in Louisiana, coordinating command-and-control operations for the 10,000 soldiers being deployed across the region.

Bunting flew over the St. Bernard Parish area of New Orleans on Saturday night, where he got his first view of the devastation.

"It's staggering," he said. "The amount of property that's destroyed - you see four to eight feet of water, just the top of a car."

Bunting said Kansas would send Guardsmen to the region on 30-day rotations for the foreseeable future. He also said that there are plenty of Guard units remaining at home, despite deployments to Iraq, Guam, Louisiana and elsewhere.

"There's just about no spot in the world that doesn't have a Kansas Guard unit," Bunting said.

National response lacking

Congressman Dennis Moore, D-Kan., returned to Kansas on Tuesday following a three-day tour of the ravaged New Orleans area.

Moore said he was convinced that the hurricane showed the need for change in how the federal government deals with natural disasters. He said he believed much of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's ability to rapidly deal with natural disasters had been hampered since it was put under the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security.

"I've got to be honest with you," Moore said, "I don't think the response here was anywhere near adequate or timely."

Moore signed on as sponsor of the Emergency Management Improvement Act, which would make FEMA its own independent agency that would be better equipped to respond to natural disasters.

Moore also said he wanted Congress to consider at least two specific ideas. One would be to keep several military bases slated for closure partially open so that they could be used as emergency housing in future natural disasters or terrorist attacks. Moore also said he wanted to at least have a discussion about temporarily suspending a variety of tax cuts approved during the last two years and using that new revenue to help rebuild the Gulf Coast region.

Victims in need

Donations are pouring into the Douglas County Chapter of the American Red Cross as well as chapters throughout the country. In less than one week, nearly $50,000 was received by the local chapter, executive director Jane Blocher said. That did not include donations made Tuesday, she said.

Some refugees are already receiving direct help from local relatives and others in the community.

April Reeves is trying to help her mother-in-law and four nieces who made their way to Lawrence from Pass Christian, Miss., late last week. What Katrina didn't destroy, floodwaters did.

"The girls were kind of caught up in it," Reeves said, of her nieces, who range in age from 14 to 18. "They had to retreat into the attic. I didn't really ask a lot of questions. Them reliving it is not what I want to put them through. They almost lost their brother. It's been a really tough ordeal."

Clothing donations have already been received by Reeves' relatives since arriving in Lawrence. They could, however, use gift cards to almost any store - especially grocery, discount or department stores - so they can obtain personal items and prescriptions, Reeves said. Her mother-in-law is supposed to have open-heart surgery sometime soon after they are able to return to Mississippi.

Rockie Browning, owner of Images Salon & Day Spa, 511 W. Ninth St., where Reeves works, said donations for her relatives can be brought there.

Making contact

As recovery efforts pick up the pace in New Orleans and other hurricane-stricken regions, Lawrence residents are slowly re-establishing communications with relatives there and piecing together what happened to them.

Lawrence resident Tecile Newsome uses cell phones, text messaging and any method she can to keep track of relatives in the New Orleans area. Some, such as her 90-year-old father, didn't want to leave the city before Katrina and had to be convinced to do so, Newsome said. He is in Florida with Newsome's sisters.

But Newsome's brother, an FBI agent, rode out the hurricane and has been assisting New Orleans Police in trying to keep the peace.

"He keeps telling me how bad it is, how overwhelming it is," Newsome said. "He keeps so busy during the day that he drops from exhaustion at night."

A nephew was an emergency medical technician who was shot at in the Superdome, Newsome said.

"He led a group of EMTs out of the dome and up the highway because it got so bad," she said, adding that he is still working in New Orleans.

Comments

Richard Heckler 8 years, 11 months ago

Is anybody receiving clothes in excellent condition for new families coming to Lawrence?

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