Camps help victims who own only what they carry in bags

Tuesday, September 6, 2005

Go home. Try to fit your most valuable possessions in a trash bag and leave everything else behind for good.

That's what David Hitt suggested when asked about his experience helping unload hurricane victims Sunday night in Kennett, Mo.

"That's all they had, just whatever they could lug in a trash bag and some didn't even have that," said Hitt, Cape Girardeau County emergency management coordinator. "I've seen a lot in life, was in Vietnam. But I've never seen anything like that."

Three buses carrying a combined 175 people arrived at Camp McClanahan just north of Kennett on Sunday. The Baptist camp is one of several in Missouri that has volunteered temporary shelter for the victims.

Displaced victims in Kennett and throughout Southeast Missouri will likely be here at least for the next six months, said American Red Cross director Mary Burton at a news conference Monday.

The news conference included comments from Thomas Dorr, agriculture undersecretary for Rural Development.

Dorr thanked Burton and other organizations for their work thus far and said it may be years before a normal lifestyle returns to some families.

He also indicated that more victims may continue to flow into Missouri for the next two weeks. Dorr said USDA has so far identified at least 1,000 vacant housing units in Missouri that are available to victims.

Burton said the hurricane displacement is by far the worst disaster her chapter of the organization has ever dealt with directly.

The impact has depleted supplies at many organizations. The food pantry of the Cape Girardeau Salvation Army is bare. The Red Cross and Salvation Army are urging the community to donate money rather than goods to help in the relief effort.

The temporary housing at faith-based camps will suffice for now, said Burton, but eventually the victims must be moved to long-term housing.

"It will do no one good to sit in a camp with no resources available to them," she said.

Her organization will work to find apartments, employment and a sense of normalcy to the victims.

John Rhodes, director of the Missouri Baptist Association, said about 1,800 beds are available in the camps.

Rhodes said he has had thousands of phone calls from people and organizations volunteering to help with the relief effort, but he asked that the community remember the relief will be a long-term need, not just an immediate one.

"This is bigger than any one person. This is a God-sized thing," said Rhodes.

Burton advised against community members opening up their own homes to displaced families due to the risk and liability of such situations. She also indicated that supplies should be kept local rather than being transported down to Louisiana or Mississippi because those areas hit by the hurricane are not reachable in many cases.

cmiller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 128

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