September 26, 2005
BY BRIAN TAYLOR
MOBILE, Alabama—In the second week since Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, people forced to live in tents or in their cars are still trying to get into shelters. Yet given the deplorable conditions in these facilities, many of those already in them are trying to get out.
According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, as of September 7, 182,000 people have made their way to 559 shelters across the United States.
There are between 15,000 and 25,000 evacuees in Alabama, the governor’s office reports. Some have found housing or shelters, but many are stuck in cars or sleeping on park benches.
At Our Savior Lutheran Church here, which has been turned into a Red Cross shelter, signs are posted on the walls to call the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for assistance. But “we have no access to phones here,” commented Robert Sneed, 43, a laid-off shipyard worker.
Glenda Cate, a nurse practitioner from North Carolina, is volunteering at the shelter for three weeks. She reported that FEMA officials came by two days earlier and said they would put two phone lines in, but have yet to return. “I let people use my cell after 9:00 p.m., when I have free minutes,” she said.
A FEMA notice offering cash relief was put up on the wall today for the first time. This facility is in a better-off area in Mobile. It houses working people from various nationalities. At a shelter in the Black community, volunteer Denise Ervy, who is a retired school teacher, said no FEMA notice on vouchers had been posted.
Conditions at Our Savior Lutheran contrast sharply with a private special needs shelter organized by the First Baptist Church in Semmes for Fresenius Medical Care patients needing dialysis. Pastor Dave Abbott told the Militant that on the initiative of one of the church members, the sizable church with many rooms and facilities is now being put to use.
While making clear he was not seeking to criticize the government or any of the relief agencies, he explained to reporters that they were getting little help from the Red Cross or FEMA. “If you call and ask for something, it could be four to five days before you get it,” he said.
Patients in this shelter were brought in from hospitals throughout the Gulf Coast decimated by the hurricane. Many hospitals in affected areas have been partially or totally shut down.
In the New Orleans area alone, 24 of 27 hospitals have been closed and fully evacuated, Bloomberg News reports. Patients have been sent to hospitals across the region.
The bodies of more than 40 mostly elderly patients were located in the flooded-out Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans. Hospital officials claim they don’t know exactly how they died. At the inundated St. Rita’s Nursing Home just east of the city, 34 corpses were found. The owners were charged September 13 with negligent homicide.