Wednesday, August 31, 2005

CITY OFFERS ASSISTANCE TO KATRINA VICTIMS

Posted By on Wed, Aug 31, 2005 at 4:00 AM

UPDATE (Thursday P.M.) --Beginning Thursday evening, The Mid-South Coliseum was to have begun taking in 2,000 Mississippi refugees with special medical needs. But shortages of fuel left these Hurricana Katrina Survivors domiciled overnight at points in North Mississippi.

Presumably the refugees' journey into safe haven in Memphis will be accomplished sometime Friday, fulfilling a plan announced Thursday by Mayors Willie Herenton and A C Wharton.

The mayors made the announcement of the Coliseum's proposed role on Thursday, saying Memphis and Shelby County are “in it for the long haul” with no idea when the refugees being brought in by bus will leave. The mayors have asked Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen for state funds for hurricane assistance.

“We are planning as if a new city is coming to town,” Wharton said.

On Friday afternoon the mayors will call a meeting of Memphis clergymen to coordinate relief efforts. The meeting will be at 3 p.m. at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church in Midtown.

There are approximately 10,000 storm refugees in Memphis already, officials say. Local hotels are near capacity, with 25 percent of the occupants being storm refugees, said Kevin Kane, head of the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau. City officials are looking for vacant apartments and other housing for them as they run out of money.

Herenton stressed that opening the coliseum to storm victims is going to be difficult and is “fraught with complexities.” The facility shares the Mid-South Fairgrounds with the annual Mid-South Fair and Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, host to the University of Memphis-Ole Miss football game Saturday afternoon.

Memphians who want to volunteer are urged to contact the Red Cross or The Convention and Visitors Bureau.

PREVIOUS (Wednesday, Thrusday A.M>.) Memphis governmental agencies, churches, and businesses are prepared to offer victims of Hurricane Katrina assistance ranging from shelter and food to school enrollment for displaced children.

Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton said Memphis is “ready to respond” and that some 10,000 displaced people are already in the city, with more expected. He characterized the response so far as “a band-aid approach” but promised a “comprehensive response” from hospitals, churches, schools, MLG&W, hotels, restaurants, and other businesses.

People who need help can call 543-5300. Victim assistance centers have been set up at the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau office at Front and Union, at the visitors center on Interstate 40 near Arlington, and at the visitors center on Interstate 55 at the Mississippi state line.

Gary Shorb, chairman of the board of the Memphis Regional Chamber of Commerce, said there has been an outpouring of interest and concern from local businesses that want to help. Medical care is the most urgent need. New Orleans officials have asked Memphis to do an inventory of available hospital capacity.

Wanda Halbert, president of the Memphis City Schools Board of Education, said city schools that were recently closed for excess capacity will be used for housing victims of the hurricane. She also said Memphis City Schools will educate children from New Orleans whose families will be displaced for long periods.

“Our doors are open,” she said.

Herenton urged Memphians who want to help to contact the American Red Cross. He did not say which public buildings might be used to house refugees. But the scope of the disaster suggests Memphis will play a large role in the recovery.

“In 24 hours, we went from callers asking how to find a hotel room for 24 hours to how to enroll a kid in school for six to nine months,” said Kevin Kane, head of the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau.

As of Wednesday afternoon, it was unclear how many Katrina refugees had found their way to Memphis. Television news reports featured interviews with managers of overcrowded motels where, in at least one case, a Memphis company (Smith and Nephew) donated free lodging for several families for multiple nights. But American Red Cross officials had not set up any shelters in Memphis. There were five Red Cross shelters in Tunica, Mississippi, however, including the convention center of the Grand Casino, which had about 400 occupants.

Shelby County Health Department was lining up volunteers to staff shelters, but spokesman Brenda Ward said Wednesday that was a case of advance planning.

Bill Hildebrandt, CEO of the Mid-South American Red Cross said he would not know until late Wednesday at the earliest whether shelters would be set up in Memphis. Hildebrandt said Tunica was closer to New Orleans, and therefore more convenient, although most motorists take Interstate 55 into Memphis rather than U.S. Highway 61 through Tunica. He said the best thing Memphians could do to help is to send cash donations to the Red Cross since supplies may not reach the Gulf Coast for several days. The Red Cross does not match families in need with local families willing to help because of liability issues.

Meanwhile, some politicians were either second-guessing the local response or suggesting alternatives. City Councilman Carol Chumney suggested the city should have looked into using gyms and churches to house refugees without waiting for the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau to take the lead.

“It seems to me the city of Memphis should some offer of assistance,” she said in an email to city officials Keith McGee and Keenon McCloy 24 hours before the Wednesday news conference at City Hall.

Shelby County Commissioner George Flinn suggested the city and county use The Pyramid and Mid-South Coliseum to house storm victims. Flinn also said that several abandoned or unused warehouses in New Chicago, a North Memphis neighborhood that he toured last week, would be suitable for short-term housing of refugees.

Earlier Wednesday, New Orleans officials began moving thousands of people out of the New Orleans SuperDome into buses to take them to the Astrodome in Houston.

Appeal for Help from Biloxi (MS) Sun Herald

Editor's Note: In response to a direct appeal for communications assistance from the editors of the Biloxi Sun Herald, we append the following editorial from the newspaper.

South Mississippi needs your help

The coastal communities of South Mississippi are desperately in need of an unprecedented relief effort.

We understand that New Orleans also was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, but surely this nation has the resources to rescue both that metropolitan and ours.

Whatever plans that were in place to deal with such a natural disaster have proven inadequate. Perhaps destruction on this scale could not have been adequately prepared for.

But now that it has taken place, no effort should be spared to mitigate the hurricane's impact.

The essentials -- ice, gasoline, medicine -- simply are not getting here fast enough.

We are not calling on the nation and the state to make life more comfortable in South Mississippi, we are calling on the nation and the state to make life here possible.

We would bolster our argument with the number of Katrina casualties confirmed thus far, but if there is such a confirmed number, no one is releasing it to the public. This lack of faith in the publics' ability to handle the truth is not sparing anyone's feelings, it is instead fueling terrifying rumors.

While the flow of information is frustratingly difficult, our reporters have yet to find evidence of a coordinated approach to relieve pain and hunger or to secure property and maintain order.

People are hurting and people are being vandalized.

Yet where is the National Guard, why hasn't every able-bodied member of the armed forces in South Mississippi been pressed into service?

On Wednesday reporters listening to horrific stories of death and survival at the Biloxi Junior High School shelter looked north across Irish Hill Road and saw Air Force personnel playing basketball and performing calisthenics.

Playing basketball and performing calisthenics!

When asked why these young men were not being used to help in the recovery effort, our reporters were told that it would be pointless to send military personnel down to the beach to pick up debris.

Litter is the least of our problems. We need the president to back up his declaration of a disaster with a declaration of every man and woman under his command will do whatever is necessary to deal with that disaster.

We need the governor to provide whatever assistance is at his command.

We certainly need our own county and city officials to come together and identify the most pressing needs of their constituents and then allocate resources to meet those needs. We appreciate the stress that theses elected and appointed officials have been under since the weekend but they must do a better job restoring public confidence in their ability to meet this challenge.

This editorial represents the view of the Sun-Herald editorial board:
President- Publisher Ricky R. Mathews, Vice President and Executive Editor Stan Tiner, Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Flora S. Point, Opinion Page Editor Marie Harris, and Associate Editor Ed. Tony Biffle.

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