States Take on Hurricane Relief
By Daniel C. Vock, Staff Writer
The wheels of state governments across the continent are spinning into action to cope with the far-reaching devastation of Hurricane Katrina.
Nearly all states are pitching in somehow. At least 40 states are providing military manpower to restore order in Louisiana. So far, 19 are housing refugees from Louisiana and Mississippi. And several more are offering services, such as schooling, aimed at helping displaced residents carry on with their lives.
National Guard troops are providing 74 percent of the military presence in the Gulf Coast relief effort, according to the National Guard Association of the United States .
The National Guard reported that 43,000 of its troops were in the affected areas as of Tuesday. The force in Louisiana includes Guard units from 40 states, while units from 21 states are in Mississippi, according to National Guard Bureau spokesperson Jack Harrison.
The thousands of soldiers heading to the Gulf Coast include engineers from Colorado, nurses from Delaware and firefighters from New York.
In the eight days since Katrina hit the area, Guard units have delivered more than 422,000 meals, 723,000 liters of water and 31,000 pounds of ice, Harrison said.
Even states not hit by the hurricane now qualify for federal emergency funds because of the influx of refugees into their borders. Evacuees have spread across the country, especially after Texas declared it could no longer accept new arrivals.
President Bush has declared emergencies in 13 states: Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and West Virginia. Nevada and Washington have also asked for the emergency relief.
More than half of the states in the country already have either taken in evacuees or expect them to arrive, according to The Associated Press . As of Sunday, refugees were living in 19 states, and another nine states anticipated that they would host the displaced residents.
When 160 evacuees stepped onto the tarmac at an old Air Force base near Denver, they were outnumbered by volunteers waiting to help. Colorado Gov. Bill Owens told the Denver Post he expected another 400-600 refugees to arrive this week.
Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) welcomed the first 200 of what could be 2,000 evacuees to relocate to the Evergreen State.
Some 300 people will stay in state facilities in northern Nevada, but, in many cases, states are coordinating with private charities to care for the refugees. Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski (D) stressed that the Red Cross was in charge there. "This isn't about delivering a social program; this is about disaster relief," he said, according to the (Salem) Statesman Journal .
The Red Cross reports that it is caring for 142,000 storm victims at 485 shelters in at least 18 states.
Elementary, high schools and universities across the country from Indiana to Arizona are opening their doors to thousands of Gulf Coast students who don't know when or whether they'll ever return to schools and campuses ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.
Katrina destroyed or damaged public schools in at least six Louisiana parishes, affecting more than 135,000 students, according to that state's Department of Education. An estimated 35,000 children in Mississippi cannot attend their schools, media have reported.
"Almost all of our schools have been underwater, and we will not, in all likelihood, be fully operational this school year," St. Bernard Parish Schools Superintendent Doris Voitier, from the Louisiana parish just east of New Orleans, said in a statement.
Public schools are required by the federal McKinney-Vento Act to enroll homeless and displaced children whether or not they have identification papers such as birth certificates or school records. To smooth the transition, officials in some states, such as Texas, already are ordering extra textbooks, waiving requirements for immunizations and promising more funding for districts that enroll high numbers of refugee students.
Colleges and universities in more than a dozen states also have offered an outpouring of support for an estimated 75,000 college students displaced by Katrina. Many colleges have extended enrollment deadlines, and some have offered free or discounted tuition and housing.
The U.S. Department of Education has set up a new Web page aimed at getting supplies to schools taking on new students from the Gulf Coast.
State governments in storm-ravaged Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi are helping those who lost their jobs along with their homes by doling out unemployment benefits .
Staff writer Kavan Peterson contributed to this report.