09/07/05 — Evacuees are finding assistance in county

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Evacuees are finding assistance in county

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on September 7, 2005 1:49 PM

Wayne County has become a temporary home to a number of evacuees of Hurricane Katrina. They began arriving this past weekend.

Teresa Williams, disaster services director with the Wayne County chapter of the American Red Cross, said several evacuees are now being housed here. Four are staying with family members and another is being put up at a motel.

There are two individuals and three families. They have come from Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Bridge City, La., and Biloxi, Miss. Some of the evacuees drove up from the Gulf Coast, and others flew.

"One lady said the normal 30-minute trip across the bridge to get out of town where she lived took five hours," Mrs. Williams said.

She emphasized that the evacuees had to leave home quickly and have nothing with them. The Red Cross is providing them with a "credit card" so they can go buy clothing, food, personal items and other necessities based on national guidelines and family size.

"If they have children, or if there's just somebody who looks like they need one, we're also giving them a teddy bear," said Mrs. Williams. "Everybody gets a comfort kit that contains a toothbrush, toothpaste and toiletries.

"We're giving them afghans and bags of toys for the children. We even helped one evacuee with glasses."

The Red Cross also is referring them to the Salvation Army and United Church Ministries for more help. If they feel the need to talk to someone about the traumatic experience they have been through, the Red Cross will put them in touch with a mental health professional.

To obtain help, the evacuees have to prove they are truly in need.

"We request identification from those we assist," said Mrs. Williams. "We want to make sure the money goes to victims. But we've had one person who didn't have an ID, and we were able to go onto the white pages on the Internet and all her information popped up. So we were able to help her."

Red Cross workers said they have heard distressing stories from the people who came seeking help.

"What I've heard will make you want to sit down and cry," said Mrs. Williams. "At times like this, you just don't feel like you can do enough to help them. I can't even imagine what they've been through. It's incomprehensible to me."

Mrs. Williams said the evacuees have one thing in common -- they want to go home again as soon as they can.

She said Wayne County residents have been generous, with offers of help and the use of their homes and offers to be trained as Red Cross volunteers so they can go to the disaster areas to help.

The Red Cross is accepting donations of money to help the hurricane victims.

"I know people don't understand why we aren't taking donations of clothing and toys and stuff like that," Mrs. Williams said. "But we don't have the capacity to take those kinds of donations. And, too, it's part of the recovery process for the disaster victims if they go out and get exactly what they need. It's letting them make their own decisions."

Mrs. Williams said Red Cross officials want to emphasize that this assistance is not to be paid back.

"And it's not charity," she said. "It's people helping people."

Mrs. Williams said there may be other evacuees in this area that the Red Cross hasn't heard about. She encouraged them to contact the Red Cross office at 735-7201 for help. The office is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and is located at 600 N. George St.