Poplar Bluff-area ice storm victims flock to coliseum

Friday, January 30, 2009

POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. -- Within 24 hours of opening its doors at 3 p.m. Wednesday, the Black River Coliseum filled up with about 400 people who were without power, needing a place to stay.

Once New Covenant Fellowship Church reached its capacity with 100 ice storm victims Tuesday night, city and county officials restored the electricity at the coliseum so evacuees could start filtering in, said Poplar Bluff city manager Doug Bagby.

"It's just a given," said Subrina Robison, sales and marketing coordinator with the coliseum. "We got the room and space, and we're just glad we can offer it for as long as possible."

Some cots and blankets were made available and more are on the way from Jefferson City, Mo., according to American Red Cross volunteers. The United Gospel Rescue Mission has been providing meals. The disaster relief is also being coordinated by volunteers from AmeriCorps, and the Missouri Army National Guard has arrived.

"There should be nobody without warmth or something to eat," said Red Cross volunteer Steven Stacy.

The Poplar Bluff Police Department and Butler County Sheriff's Department, along with volunteers from Butler County Emergency Management and Homeland Security, have been evacuating residents.

About 35 volunteers with AmeriCorps, based in St. Louis, arrived at the coliseum early Thursday with 30 pallets of ready-to-eat meals and bottled water donated from Convoy of Hope of Springfield, a not-for-profit organization that also provides disaster relief.

"We've been on call for the past few days tracking storms, just waiting to be discharged," said Andrew Kuwic, team supervisor with AmeriCorps. Vicky Sutak, a second-year volunteer, said they are prepared to distribute food and water regionally next.

Butch Anderson, eastern district commissioner with Butler County, was at the coliseum Thursday morning trying to get some televisions in there so people don't become bored. He said city and county workers are still attempting to clear all roads of trees so ambulances can get through and people can be rescued by law enforcement and firefighters if needed.

"We're going to get through this," said Anderson. "It's just going to take a little sunshine."

Several churches in surrounding counties have also been serving as emergency shelters.

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