Helping in disaster's wake

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Craig resident Connie Andrews is thrilled to see community members help those who are part of the devastation wrought last week by Hurricane Katrina.

Andrews thinks those with campers should offer them to refugees.

Right now, she said, it's going to come down to what individuals do because she doesn't think the federal government did, or is doing, all it can.

"I was disappointed we didn't have anything in place for those people who couldn't get out," Andrews said. "If they ordered the citizens to evacuate, they needed to have something in place to evacuate those who couldn't get out."

She understands the confusion that accompanies a large-scale disaster but still thinks response time was low.

Donate cash to: • American Red Cross: 1-800-HELP-NOW • Operation Blessing: 1-800-436-6348 • America's Second Harvest: 1-800-344-8070 Volunteer with or donate cash to: • Adventist Community Services: 1-800-381-7171 • Catholic Charities: 703-549-1390 • Christian Disaster Response (941) 956-5183 • Church World Service 1-800-297-1516 Local efforts: • Habitat for Humanity "Labor of Love Clothing Drive" Call Vicky Burns at 824-7086 • Housing Call Linda Laughlin at 870-6280 in Routt County or log on to www.swern.gov or www.hurricanehous... to list available housing in other areas. • Donations Contact the Craig Rotary Club, the Craig Lions Club or other area service organizations for information about community-driven assistance efforts.

"It's a lesson learned, I think," she said. "Too bad it wasn't a terrorist attack. Maybe help would've been there sooner."

Locals deployed

In Moffat County, residents are rising to the need help. A crew of 20 Northwest Colorado firefighters left Aug. 30 for a 30-day stint. They are stationed in NASA headquarters outside of Perlington, Miss., which is on the border of Mississippi and Louisiana. Deployed firefighters have been working in warehouses unloading supply trucks and loading transport trucks with supplies for those still trapped in their homes.

"There is still a widespread need," said Cathy Hutton, manager for the Bureau of Land Management's Craig Interagency Dispatch.

Hutton said some members spent a day taking baby food to those in need. They report nightly via a satellite phone.

The crew has started working to clear roads of debris.

The same crews also have helped after the Sept. 11 attacks, the shuttle recovery and Hurricane Ivan.

During Ivan, the crews worked with FEMA. When they got there, they helped a team from Georgia that was already in place. They distributed food and later distributed trailers for people to live in. They were at Pensacola Naval Base.

Nearly 10 BLM employees are interested in helping Craig resident Dale Skidmore set up a camp for refugees in Texas. Skidmore is part of a separate BLM team that performed disaster relief operations in Texas. The camp is expected to house 2,500.

They're on standby should they be called.

BLM incident team member Lynn Barclay is one of those who could go.

"We're keeping our packs ready," Barclay said. "We will all take our turn and help out wherever we can."

Firefighters aren't the only ones who have rushed to the scene. Two Colorado Northwestern Community College-Craig nursing program graduates have left to help, and another will be leaving next week.

"They're desperate for any help at all," Nursing Program Coordinator Marilyn Bouldin said.

Housing needs

Others are wondering how they can help. Steamboat Springs resident Linda Laughlin is winding her way through red tape in an effort to provide housing for disaster victims. She set up a hotline at her house Thursday and since has found accommodations for more than 50 people.

That's been the easy part, she said. The hard part is getting people into those homes.

"It's been a nightmare working with the Red Cross," she said. "They're pretty much working on a national level even at a local level. FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) is doing a national matching process online that should only be done on a face-to-face basis."

Laughlin plans to drive to Buckley Air Force base to find anyone who needs housing or an official who can help her find families to place.

Housing options in Steamboat Springs range from weeks to a year.

She's also raising money to help those who come.

"We don't have access easily to Red Cross money. That's being done at a national level," she said.

Laughlin said she doesn't think she can effectively run a housing program in Moffat County from Steamboat Springs but has offered to share the information she has with groups looking to provide housing.

"The most effective work is being done by private citizens, private groups and private organizations because the national agencies are overwhelmed," she said.

The Craig Lions Club is working to get other service organizations and the community to come together in a countywide effort to provide not only housing -- but the supplies a family may need should they be relocated to Moffat County.

Back to basics

Craig Realtor Vicki Burns isn't waiting. As treasurer of the Moffat County chapter of Habitat for Humanity chapter, she's leading an effort to collect clothing to send to Hurricane Katrina victims.

She has bags of donating items left over from the Habitat fundraising yard sale and will collect more during the next few months.

"(We wanted to do this) rather than give to the local budget stores that are already inundated with clothes," Burns said.

The idea was conceived during Labor Day weekend and is therefore called the Labor of Love Clothing Drive.

Burns expects to drive the first load of clothing to the disaster sites with the company of some friends next week. She knows Realtors there, who have now lost their livelihood, and will meet up with them. From there, the clothing will be distributed mainly in Jackson, Miss., and Baton Rouge, La.

She has never personally been through a hurricane but realizes the destruction that accompanies such a storm.

"I grew up in Florida and I understand what a hurricane can do to a family and their lives," Burns said. "These people have nothing. They're wading around in chest-deep water. The first thing I would want is a shower and clean clothes to put on."

So that's what she's giving them.

And she's not doing it alone. Eleven-year-old Kirstie McPherson is helping, too.

The sixth-grader at Craig Intermediate School is organizing a canned food and water drive with her friend, Sierra Arellano, at the school.

McPherson has helped out with Habitat projects before, and this one is particularly important to her.

"It's pretty depressing how much devastation there is to all those people," she said, "so I think we owe it to them as the United States to help."

Habitat for Humanity will be collecting clean, new or used clothing as well as cash donations Friday during the Moffat County High School football game.

The Craig Rotary Club is accepting donations that will be used for hurricane relief. Call Samantha Johnston at 824-7031 to contribute.

Prayer

Rhonda Walmer, who moved to Craig after experiencing the four hurricanes that hit the Florida coast in 2004, said the biggest need is prayer.

"After that, water is a very big one," she said. "These people have no homes, no jobs, no money, and they can't get to banks to get money. They have nothing. Everything they have has been taken away from them. What we take for granted is what they need for survival."

Instead of sending goods, though, Walmer recommends donating to the Red Cross or to the Salvation Army.

"They are equipped to know what's needed and how to get it there," she said.

Walmer said the help both agencies brought to Florida was amazing.

Local opportunities

Three Craig restaurants have joined to sponsor a benefit Thursday through Saturday that will send proceeds from sales to the American Red Cross.

Bad to the Bone owner Josh Lawson encouraged his employees to donate their wages for a day plus tips to the cause, and he will match their contribution. So far, all of his employees will participate.

Bad to the Bone will offer Cajun specials throughout the weekend, and all restaurants will donate at least 25 percent to the Red Cross.

The Colorado Restaurant Association is asking restaurants to donate at least 10 percent of their sales on Oct. 5 to hurricane efforts. As of Wednesday, no Craig restaurants had agreed to participate, but CRA spokeswoman Lynn Bronikowski said requests only went out Friday.

Residents can log on to www.coloradorestaurant.com to find of list of participating businesses.

"Already people are offering to donate 25 percent or even 100 percent of their proceeds, and several plan to do extra collections or host special events," Bronikowski said.

The same fundraiser netted $320,000 for the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks on the world trade center, and Bronikowski expects this effort to exceed that.

"It's an easy way for consumers to help hurricane relief efforts because they don't have to do anything, just eat out," she said.

Danny Stahl is one resident who won't be contributing. He said he's undergone enough hardships in his life to have little compassion left.

"Nobody supported me," he said. "That makes you insensitive to other people's problems."

Beulah Brown, too, is having a hard time mustering too much sympathy.

"What I don't understand is why they didn't leave," she said of those living in the affected areas. "I can't figure out why you would build in a place like that and then why you'd do it again."

Michael Brown, undersecretary of Homeland Security of Emergency Preparedness and Response recommends those interested in helping do so by making cash donations.

"Cash donations allow agencies to avoid the labor-intensive need to store, sort, pack and distribute donated goods," he said.

Writers Michelle Perry and Brandon Johansson contributed to this story.

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