Saturday, April 08, 2006
Debris workers lodging extended;
FEMA to keep camps at least until June 1
Saturday, April 08, 2006
By Paul Purpura, West Bank bureau
Volunteers flocking to the New Orleans area to help clear storm debris and gut flooded houses will have free lodging at least through June 1, FEMA announced Friday, days before the agency had planned to close its four camps for relief workers.
The sites in Algiers, Chalmette, Port Sulphur and Cameron Parish had been slated to close next week, leaving volunteer organizations traveling to the region to help with post-Katrina recovery efforts scrambling for alternate sites. The four camps combined house about 1,500 people, but the number of beds has varied based on need, said Elizabeth Childs, a spokeswoman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Under FEMA contracts, firms have operated the tent cities for months, initially to help emergency workers and National Guard troops in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. As first responders and troops left, the lodging was opened to volunteers, from faith-based groups to college students on spring break. By one count, as many as 10,000 volunteers were in the area last month.
"Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition," Elenor Soltau, disaster relief coordinator for Canal Street Presbyterian Church, said Friday upon learning of the extension.
The Mid-City church, which has assisted with the influx of volunteers from across the nation, had three teams of 65 workers scheduled to stay in Camp Algiers at Behrman Park through May, and they already paid their return-trip airfare before learning the camp would close Monday, Soltau said. That left her seeking other lodging, she said.
"We're thrilled for the fact that at least it gives us two more months to house teams," Soltau said. "For now we can continue with plans for the teams that are coming in."
Hearing murmurs of the camps' closing in recent weeks, Habitat for Humanity and St. Bernard Parish officials began working on an alternate site for 800 workers in Arabi, as Camp Premier in Chalmette, which has housed 7,500 volunteers so far, was slated to close Wednesday, said Michael Hayes, who has recruited volunteers for the nonprofit group.
The group is still seeking a more permanent site, but the FEMA extension gives them some "breathing space," he said. "We're very thankful this is happening."
The camps include air conditioned tents with wooden floors that have cots, dining facilities serving three meals daily, washers and dryers, restrooms and showers.
FEMA pays about $100 daily per person to operate the camps, not including administrative costs such as salaries for FEMA employees involved with them, said Childs, the FEMA spokeswoman.
FEMA said the extension will help state and parish officials find "more comprehensive solutions" to help the volunteers involved with long term recovery. "Our base camp operations have been a vital support component for workers, many of them volunteers, that have come to help in the recovery," FEMA's deputy director for Gulf Coast operations Gil Jamieson said.
U.S. Rep. Bobby Jindal, R-Kenner, opposed the camps' closure, saying in a March 29 letter to acting FEMA director David Paulison that more than 400 volunteer groups have helped in recovery efforts.
"It would be impossible to carry out the sheer volume of recovery needs without the assistance of volunteer organizations," he wrote.
Oh, I see that it's about $100 per person per day, that sound expensive--FEMA expensive, but it's still a worthwhile expenditure..