U.S. state of Utah begins to accept evacuees from Hurricane Katrina

Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Evacuees from New Orleans arrived on Sunday and have continued to come to Utah, utilizing the facilities at Camp Williams, the training facility for the Utah National Guard, to house the incoming people. Flights from New Orleans to Salt Lake City International Airport provided by JetBlue Airways under a contract from FEMA have been shuttling people from New Orleans to many destinations throughout the United States, including Utah.

In addition, Utah Air National Guard relief missions transporting food and other supplies to New Orleans relief efforts have also been returning with people in the cargo areas of the airplanes on return flights. "In keeping with our mission to assist in the security and safety of our homeland, we stand trained, ready, and able to respond to the call to assist our fellow citizens in Louisiana, Mississippi and elsewhere," said Maj. Gen. Brian Tarbet, Utah National Guard Adjutant General.

The people on board the airplanes had no idea where they were going. In one case the airplane was headed to San Antonio and at the last minute while still airborne the destination was changed to Utah. Peter Coroon, Salt Lake County Mayor: "Some of the people look dazed. Some of them are just happy to be out of where they were. Some of them are eager to find their loves ones they've been separated. Some of them weren't sure where they were going when they left New Orleans."

Governor John Huntsman, Jr. utilized surplus state funds by declaring a state of emergency to begin efforts housing and clothing people coming to Utah, however some of this will likely be reimbursed by the Federal Government at a later date. He announced that Utah was willing to take up to 1,000 people at shelters in Utah, and that amount was later increased to over 2,000. On Monday, President Bush signed an executive order granting the emergency declaration in Utah to provide Federal assistance for the evacuees in Utah.

After arriving in Utah, one evacuee said "I want to thank the people of Utah for their hospitality and for restoring my faith in America." Another evacuee said "it seems like heaven, looking at the mountains and getting a breath of fresh air and saying, 'Thank God we made it.'"

Not all evacuees were pleased with the move to Utah. "I knew where Utah was, but nobody told me that's where we were going. Nothing personal. It's nice. But I don't know anybody here," said Bergeron, among the first batch of 152 evacuees to arrive at the Camp Williams Utah Army National Guard training site.

The Utah chapter of the American Red Cross has been training volunteers over the Labor Day weekend, and according to one official they have been overwhelmed with community support to help the evacuees. The line of volunteers to receive the training helping those at Camp Williams was litterally out of the door at the Red Cross offices today. One volunteer, Kayelynn Wright said, "The last couple of days we’d talked about it and said, 'What can we do?' So when I saw it (a call for volunteers) last night, I called (my neighbor) this morning and said, 'We gotta go!'" The Red Cross has asked that you contact the local office if you plan on volunteering or donating any new clothing and other items to help the evacuees.

Volunteers from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Saturday gathered at the LDS Humanitarian Center in Salt Lake to assemble more than 50,000 hygiene kits for hurricane victims. Plastic bags were stuffed with toothbrushes and toothpaste, combs, soap, washcloths and hand towels. The supplies will be shipped to a church-owned storehouse Georgia for distribution.

Transportation requests are also being honored by the Utah state government, and evacuees are having transportation to anywhere in the United States paid for at state expense. In addition, a small amount of extra money is being donated directly to each family to help with immediate expenses. The Utah Transit Authority has already established a regular municipal bus service between Camp William and downtown Salt Lake City, which will begin formal service starting tomorrow morning.