Evacuees Are Welcomed in Bay County, but There Are Sacrifices

The number of Hurricane Katrina evacuees moving into the area is growing. There now well over 1,000 calling Bay County shelters home.

There has to be at least that many more living with family, friends and total strangers who have taken them in. The task of providing basic needs for all these people can be difficult.

Many of the independent beach shelters have tried to become official shelters. This would require the Red Cross to staff, serve meals and give medical services to the evacuees.

But, local Red Ross officials say they have their hands full with the one official shelter at the Bay County Fairgrounds

One evacuee, Pasty Heard, is staying at the Islander Motel. She has the basics like a place to stay and clean water, but Pasty says getting food is not always easy.

“We go to the Red Cross of to the churches, but you have to have gas to get there.”

She has lost everything and paying for gas is not an option.

The Islander volunteers have been trying to make the now defunct motel a Red Cross shelter since last Thursday, not just for easier access but also for protection in case of an accident or possibly more severe weather.

Volunteer Richard Ehrenfalt says it’s been a problem for many other non Red Cross shelters.

“It’s the liability issue of not being deemed a shelter. We could go under the liability coverage of the state or even FEMA.”

The Red Cross says it would be a real problem to take the more than 50 facilities where people are staying and turn them into shelters.

Bob Pearce is the Executive Director of the local Red Cross Chapter and says, “We just wouldn’t be able to support them all at that level. We just don’t have the manpower to staff them. Plus, there’s a lot of things that have to happen before a place can be designated as a Red Cross Shelter.”

The Red Cross is providing the Islander with registration for aid and help with family services. The rest will have to come from the volunteers who opened up the Islander.

Most meals will still have to be provided at an off site location, putting some evacuees with no money for gasoline in a tough position. There are about 150 evacuees staying at the Islander shelter.