The Northwest Oklahoma Red Cross Chapter as well as the Woodward County-City Emergency Management Service have been put on standby to possibly bring some evacuees from Hurricane Katrina to the area.

Shelters have already been opened in the state to house people evacuated from New Orleans but they will soon be running out of room, officials said.

A meeting was held Tuesday morning with city leaders and emergency management staff to discuss Woodward’s ability to house evacuees on either a temporary or long-term basis. Those in attendance were Alan Riffel, City Manager, Mary Ann White, executive director of the Northwest chapter of the Red Cross, Sgt. Matt Lehenbauer, city-county emergency management coordinator, County Commissioners Ralph Triplett Vernie Matt, and Ted Craighead, and representatives from the fire and police departments.

“Our communities support for the relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina has been outstanding,” said White

“We are looking at areas right now that are being volunteered to house some of the evacuees and many area churches have started in the effort as well. Also, we are looking to see how many people we can take,” Riffel said. “We are being told that if we do receive evacuees we should look at having them here for around six months but we could be looking at something a lot longer than that.”

As the weeks after the tragedy go by, officials said the need for life saving rescue teams will diminish as the need for life sustaining teams will be on the rise.

“The relief efforts have been massive and the focus is now shifting from lifesaving and temporary shelter facilities to providing longer term shelter and allowing the victims to decide what they want to do longer in terms of relocation and how to rebuild their lives,” White said.

White also said, “Although much of the news has been on how response and relief efforts could have been better or faster, given the scope of this disaster many groups and agencies have come together very quickly to meet the most urgent needs. Our community has risen to the occasion with monetary donations and offers for assistance. Working with the city and county officials in assessing our ability to provide long term shelter for Hurricane Katrina victims not only allows our community to assist those currently in need but also better prepares us to respond to a local disaster should one occur in our area in the future.”

The need for shelters and assistance can commonly be slowed by governmental red tape but that’s not the case with this disaster,

“Oklahoma has been declared a disaster area by President Bush. This will clear the way for us to receive federal assistance to provide needed services including reimbursement of expenses and other federal resources. Our office will be working with the State Emergency Management office as well as all of the agencies and government represented at this meeting to ensure that we can respond if called upon,” said Lehenbauer.

“We have sent numerous cots and blankets to the State Emergency Management Office to help with the needs in the Gulf. We now need to replenish our supplies here in case of an emergency closer to home. We are asking for cots and blankets to help build our supplies back up and all surplus received will be sent immediately to the State Emergency Management Office to be used as necessary,” he added.

“At this time we are only assessing our ability to open a shelter in our area. Once we determine what facilities are available and what renovation would be necessary to place a shelter in service at that location, we will have to work with local and federal governmental agencies and others to coordinate putting a shelter in service,” White said.

For information on how to donate to the victims of Hurricane Katrina call the Red Cross at 580-256-3828

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