If a giant earthquake or tsunami ever strikes Los Angeles, Arizona could be unprepared to shelter thousands of evacuees forced to escape.
Arizona emergency officials have years of experience in quickly preparing temporary shelter for people fleeing wildfires and flash flooding. But they have no concrete plans for large-scale evacuations from a neighboring state.
Gov. Janet Napolitano said Monday that has to change, in light of the devastation from Hurricane Katrina that caused up to one million to flee their homes.
Napolitano told an East Valley crowd of politicians and business leaders she has directed state agencies to determine how Arizona would cope if a major disaster in California displaced a large number of people.
"This is a gigantic wake-up call for all of us," Napolitano said during a speech at Mesa Community College.
A May 2005 study by U.S. Geological Survey and the Southern California Earthquake Center estimates an earthquake along the Puente Hills fault line could displace 142,000 to 735,000 families and cause more than $250 billion in damage.
Lee Sapaden, spokesman for the Los Angeles County emergency management office, said disaster planning there has focused on finding temporary shelter within other parts of California unaffected by an earthquake, even if that would require tents in public parks. But Sapaden said Los Angeles hasn’t really addressed how it would deal with a worse-case scenario projected in the May study.
The Grand Canyon Chapter of the American Red Cross has contracts with auditoriums, local schools and other facilities to shelter up to 11,000 people at once, said Mike Clark, director of emergency services. But the chapter, which covers 10 Arizona counties, only has enough cots and blankets for 2,500.
"This has opened everybody’s eyes to the necessity for statewide or multistate planning for such incidents," Clark said. "I think we’ll see a great deal of that in the future."