Hurricane evacuees arrive in area

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11261121504865.jpg’, ”, ‘Mayor Larry Morrissey’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11261122268956.jpg’, ‘photo by Jeff Havens’, ‘Ambulances from several local agencies begin to line up outside the Greater Rockford Airport terminal Sept. 6. They were ready to transport any one of between 100-200 victims of Hurricane Katrina. Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey asked media to respect the privacy of the evacuees by not photographing or interviewing victims.’);

An army of state and local agencies are coordinating efforts to assist between 100 to 200 evacuees affected by Hurricane Katrina by housing them in Rockford-area hotels, motels, public housing units and private housing units that receive Section 8 funds, authorities said at a Sept. 6 press conference at the Greater Rockford Airport.

Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey said it was not known exactly how many individuals would be flown to the airport, and asked the media to respect the privacy of the evacuees. However, Morrissey said he was assured by state officials the area would not host more people than the region can accommodate.

By mid-afternoon Sept. 6, evacuees were being processed at the Rockford American Red Cross headquarters at 727 N. Church St.

After landing at the Greater Rockford Airport, evacuees were identified, screened for any health problems that needed immediate attention, then bused to lodging facilities. At least four ambulances lined up outside the airport terminal ready to transport individuals in need of medical services.

Joyce Ruthe, a volunteer coordinator of the effort for the local chapter of the American Red Cross, said her agency planned to “shepherd” the evacuees through the process of relocation. She added they would assist in providing “immediate financial resources” to the evacuees.

Morrissey asked people wishing to donate “in-kind” goods and services, such as food and clothing, to wait until agencies could ascertain the needs of the evacuees. He said those who wanted to donate money could contact any of the relief agencies involved in the effort, such as the American Red Cross.

Whether evacuees planned a long-term, short-term or permanent stay in the area was not known.

Salvation Army Major Dallas Raby emphasized: “We don’t know who is coming yet…Hold off on donating goods until we know what their needs are.”

Morrissey directed homeowners or those willing to provide shelter to the hurricane victims to register their names on a Web site at: He added that evacuees would receive Rockford Mass Transit District bus passes for transportation.

J. Maichle Bacon, public health administrator for the Winnebago County Health Department, said his agency was working with several health care facilities to provide “case management” for those in need of physical and emotional support. He expected a large portion of the cost for services to be paid through Medicaid reimbursements.

Morrissey added that if school-age children are part of the evacuation effort, the Rockford School District is ready to educate new students.

Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen said the Winnebago County Housing Authority identified 60 County-owned housing units and 30 Section 8 units available for occupation for as long as one year.

Morrissey said he was notified Sept. 5 by state officials that Rockford was to be a host site for evacuees, which was coordinated on orders from Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Representing Blagojevich, former Rockford Mayor Doug Scott said not only is Illinois taking in victims, but state personnel are being sent to several Southern states that were affected by the hurricane.

Scott is now the head of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. He was appointed to that position by Blagojevich after losing to Morrissey in the April mayoral election.

Most of the cost of the evacuation and relocation effort is expected to be paid with federal emergency funds.

Hurricane Katrina blew into southern Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama Aug. 29 with sustained winds in excess of 140 mph, which may have caused $50 billion in damage and killed thousands. However, those damage and death estimates have been climbing with time.

An estimated 1 million people have been displaced as a result of the storm. Most of the victims who could not evacuate New Orleans were black and/or poor. Others still in the flooded city after the hurricane chose not to evacuate for a variety of reasons.

The response by federal officials has received severe criticism from elected officials from affected states, and by domestic and foreign press. However, federal officials have not been held accountable for the effort President George W. Bush termed “not acceptable.”

The poor response was the result of folding the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) into the new Department of Homeland Security, which has focused on possible terrorist attacks rather than natural disaster response.

For more information about the effort and how individuals can assist, contact the American Red Cross at 963-8471 or the City of Rockford at 987-5590.

From the Sept. 7-13, 2005, issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!