Managing shelters a huge task

Published 6:04 am Wednesday, November 10, 2004

By Staff
I read with interest the articles in The Mobile Register reviewing the problems arising out of sheltering evacuees in Baldwin and Mobile counties during and after Hurricane Ivan.
Here in Escambia County we experienced many of the same problems. Getting volunteers proved to be a huge task. So many of those trained and/or experienced didn't want to leave their families, had health problems or other reasons for not helping. We couldn't secure the shelters.
Although we weren't a special needs shelter, we wound up with several cases because there wasn't one in the area, and the hospital couldn't keep some of them. We had several emergency trips to the hospital. Communication was a major problem because most phones -- land and cell -- weren't working.
Some people brought their own food and other necessities, while many showed up without anything, expecting us to furnish everything down to clothing.
Inexperience on the part of those of us in charge of some of the operations, together with the fact we've not had a storm of this magnitude, put us at a disadvantage in attempting to prepare and carry out necessary services.
I hasten to say we first of all are a very blessed people, because for a storm as fierce as this one was, no one was badly hurt or killed, and the property damage could have certainly been much worse. Can you believe the sparing of mobile homes? Then there were so many positives. Along with our faithful Red Cross volunteers, others from the community came forward ready to help in any way, as well as several of those in the shelter, many with special talents and abilities. The County Health Department gave us tremendous help, and the nurses went the second and third mile. Neal and Brewton elementary schools, which were our Brewton area shelter suppliers, were a great help to us in many ways, as were the Community of Christ Church, Little Escambia Baptist, First Baptist Brewton, North Brewton Baptist and others who opened spontaneous shelters and/or feeding stations in their communities.
National Red Cross was promptly on the scene to take over operations and give some relief to our local people, as well as the Southern Baptist Convention who cooked tons and tons of food for Red Cross to serve.
Alabama Power and Southern Pine did a phenomenal job, along with the armies of linemen from other areas, in restoring power. Almost immediately law enforcement from everywhere were here to help and were in and out of the shelter steadily.
Outside EMA, FEMA, Army Corps of Engineers and Americorps rushed in to start the process of restoring us to some degree of normalcy.
Certainly there is need for review and critique for future preparedness. I'd like to think at the time, we did the best we could with what we had. Needs were met under adverse circumstances and we're extremely grateful for everyone who had a part in this awesome task.

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