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Carlos B. Lopez, Constable

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Bruce Elfant

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Constable's Notebook - September 2006

It’s hurricane season. Last year when I reported on Austin and Travis County’s efforts to welcome and assist more than 12,000 evacuees from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, none of us could have imagined that a year later Austin and many other communities would still be home to many thousands of New Orleans and Gulf Coast residents. As of June, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reported that 6,750 families remain in the Austin area, and during the Spring semester, more than 1,200 students were enrolled in area schools. According to a recent survey, 56% of the remaining evacuees responded that they planned to stay in Austin as opposed to only 7% who said that they intended to leave Austin.

To say that Austin or any other community was woefully unprepared for this disaster would be a gross understatement. Hurricanes Rita and Katrina displaced well more than a million residents which is more than for any previous disaster in U.S. history. I clearly remember being told last year that Travis County area emergency management personnel should be prepared to open and staff three to five shelters. By the end of the day, nearly 60 shelters were up and running. For a time, shelters were opened and filled to capacity every 15 minutes. While local emergency management officials never imagined that there would be a need to house and care for more than 12,000 people literally overnight, local government officials (especially Mayor Wynn), law enforcement, medical professionals and so many others donated their time, money and resources to ensure that our unexpected guests received a warm welcome, food, a place to sleep, medical resources, etc. We made requests through the local media for food, baby items, medical supplies and dog food. In the middle of the night, thousands of Austinites made their way to shelters to donate needed supplies to assist our guests. Many who came, stayed through the night to assist other overwhelmed volunteers.

Since last year, state and local officials have worked to incorporate the lessons learned from Rita and Katrina into a comprehensive plan that will allow for the sheltering of up to 25,000 people including a medical shelter for 800-1,000 people. Austin has been designated as a shelter hub for evacuees from Houston, Matagorda and Corpus Christi. More information about the plan for Central Texas shelters and how you can help can be obtained from the Central Texas Red Cross at 928-4271. Announcements and bulletins will be posted on their website at www.centex.redcross.org/.

Everyone prays that the Central Texas plan will never need to be implemented for hurricanes or any other disaster, but should the need arise, I am confident that we will be better prepared to do all that is necessary to provide shelter, food and medical services for all who have been affected.



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