Evacuees adapt to coliseum life - East Valley Tribune: News

Evacuees adapt to coliseum life

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Posted: Sunday, September 4, 2005 1:33 pm | Updated: 8:33 am, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Two feet of water filled the first floor of John Farrell Screen’s New Orleans home.

Muddy sludge covered the rooms in Bill Born’s house.

A broken water heater flooded James Washington’s home and he worries thieves may enter through an open back door.

The three Louisiana men escaped the mire and misery of the hurricane-devastated Gulf Coast this weekend for temporary shelter in Arizona. They are grateful for the cots, food, clothing and showers that awaited them and about 500 evacuees at Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix.

And already, they want to go home.

"If it weren’t for people like these people, where would we have gone? We might be dead," said Washington, 83, retired from the National Maritime Union. "But it’s not like home. I just hope I got a house and clothes when I get back."

Washington sat on a cot Monday amid rows of cots set up on the main floor of the coliseum. Each cot had a sleeping bag, blanket and pillow. Some were empty and some rumpled from sleep, while others held sleeping evacuees trying to get some much needed rest.

Evacuees have identification badges hanging around their necks with their pictures and names. It’s one of the many ways local and state agencies, nonprofit organizations and local law enforcement are keeping track of them in what is being called Operation Good Neighbor.

"This will be a marathon. It’s not a sprint," said Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, who toured the coliseum Monday afternoon. "These people have no city to go back to and we are fully prepared to help them."

During Hurricane Katrina, Born stayed behind in Chalmette, outside of New Orleans, while his wife evacuated to stay with her brother. The 62-year-old pointed to his feet, saying they were "webbed," and that he didn’t want to leave his house. He finally touched base with his wife Monday morning via phones set up at the coliseum. He plans to go and stay with his brother-in-law in Holden, La., outside of Baton Rouge.

"The Red Cross said they will make arrangements so I can go back," said Born, a retired forklift mechanic.

Born has thyroid problems and was able to get his needed medicine at the coliseum on Sunday. He also brought along his Siamese cat, Princess, who was staying at the emergency shelter set up by the Arizona Humane Society.

Screen doesn’t have a car and had weathered so many hurricanes and near-misses before that he decided to ride out Hurricane Katrina. The 57-year-old was going to evacuate to the Superdome until he saw the number of people pouring into it and decided against it. Now that he’s in Arizona, he’s not sure what he’s going to do.

Arizona’s Department of Emergency and Military Affairs’ division of emergency management is coordinating resources. The American Red Cross is handling staffing and food, and is providing counseling and mental health assistance. The Red Cross is also offering three hot meals a day, nonstop access to snacks and trained nurses giving basic first aid, said Tamera Skrovan, a Red Cross spokeswoman.

Arizona has a capacity to accept a total of 1,800 refugees at the coliseum and Tucson Convention Center, but officials say they were working on plans to accommodate evacuees at other undisclosed locations if the need arises.

While no flights were scheduled for Monday, more refugees were expected to be flown to Arizona today.

Monday, 180 people were processed through the state Department of Economic Security, which is handling the evacuees’ social service needs and job help, Napolitano said. Other state agencies are working on housing and transportation needs.

"This is a shelter and is not designed for long-term care," Napolitano said. "The coliseum may remain open longer as more people come. In a week we should know better how long the shelter will remain open."

A kids’ zone at the coliseum gave the younger evacuees a chance to play video games, watch videos and play basketball, said Christine Scarpati, executive director of the Child Crisis Center of the East Valley.

"It’s better here than where they were before," Scarpati said. "They can do fun things and get their minds off of what happened. It’s a ray of sunshine for them."

Jim Hauserman, a field manager for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints welfare department, helped unload and deliver more than 1,000 hygiene kits from Mesa. He said last week the church shipped sleeping bags, cots, chainsaws and generators to the Gulf Coast.

Arizona is reaching out to any evacuees — even animals.

Twelve-year-old Kyira Hankton came to the coliseum with her mom, stepdad, uncle, friends — and her Chow, Winnie.

The dog sat on Kyira’s lap on the plane ride here — a jet packed with people and pets. Winnie is doing fine, Kyira said.

"I can walk her and come anytime to see her," the eighth-grader added. "Everybody here is so nice."

Winnie is one of 12 dogs, three cats, a bird and 10 cocker spaniel puppies rescued with evacuees. The animals are staying in a temporary emergency shelter set up by the Arizona Humane Society.

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