- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 4, 2005

Hundreds of volunteers showed up at the D.C. Armory yesterday, eager to help set up for the estimated 400 refugees from the flooded-out city New Orleans expected to arrive in the District this week.

“You can’t not be here,” said the Rev. Deacon Helen Trainor, a director of ministry development at St. Columba’s Episcopal Church in Northwest as she set up cots. “Even if this wasn’t my Christian calling, even if I didn’t have to be here, I would be here.”

Most of the volunteers spent yesterday sweeping floors, unloading crates of water and soda, unboxing pillows, passing out blankets and towels, and hanging up curtains.

These volunteers had never met one another, but quickly forged a common bond.

“None of us knew each other before now,” said Janet Nickoney, 28, of the District, who waited for orders outside the armory for several hours yesterday. “But this affects us. This is D.C.’s way of helping out. So here we are.”

The preparations at the armory were just part of the D.C. area’s continued response to the devastation left by Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

Churches, government agencies and volunteers continued to collect donations and work round-the-clock yesterday to prepare for the arrival of 400 of Louisiana’s hardest-hit residents.

Ten buses and at least 30 D.C. employees, including Metropolitan Police Department officers and health and human services employees, left for New Orleans to pick up refugees Friday. The buses, filled with food and water that will be left in Louisiana, were expected to return with refugees some time this week.

The buses arrived in New Orleans early yesterday, but it was not clear when they would be able to pick up the refugees and return to the District.

“We’re making the best of a very challenging situation,” said D.C. Council member David A. Catania, at-large independent who started organizing the relief effort. “But we will meet and exceed the expectations of our guests.”

Once the setup is complete, the armory will be divided into three sleeping sections, a recreation section and a common area, said Mark Tuohey, chairman of the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission, which oversees the armory.

“We’re doing everything we can to make this a restful and dignified place for them,” he said. “Everybody is pitching in.”

About 3,000 area residents have volunteered through the Red Cross, Serve D.C., the Salvation Army and other local charitable organizations to help in the cleanup and refugee effort.

But organizers fear the surge in help will drop long before the rebuilding and need for volunteers is over.

“We are just having a problem making people know that we want to use them,” said Millicent Williams, a spokeswoman for Serve D.C. “But people want to be used now, and they don’t understand that we need them to be patient while we organize the process.”

Officials also asked yesterday that residents not flood the armory with donations of clothing and food.

“We’re grateful that people want to donate, but [for] the future we would ask that people not donate clothing,” Miss Williams said. “We’re working out a warehouse and drop-off station that people can go to take other items, but they need to not bring things to the armory.”

Miss Williams said D.C. volunteers can register by calling the Mayor’s Citywide Call Center at 202/727-1000.

Others in the Washington area are sending more help to the devastated region.

As many as 50 firefighters and rescue personnel from Montgomery County are preparing to leave today for New Orleans. They will join 35 other rescuers from the county in the search for survivors.

Also, the county’s second Urban Search and Rescue Team is on alert and could be deployed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

A second unit of D.C. National Guard could be deployed to New Orleans in the next few days, officials with the D.C. National Guard said. Thousands of National Guardsmen from across the country have begun streaming into New Orleans to bring relief to suffering residents and to maintain order.

About 30 officers from the U.S. Mint Police have been deployed by the Treasury Department to provide security for the Federal Reserve bank in New Orleans. The group left at about 5 a.m. yesterday.

Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley has made available 1,000 shelter beds for Katrina victims, and encouraged residents to open up their homes to victims and continue donating water and nonperishable food items to any Baltimore City Fire Department firehouse.

More than 100 emergency first responders from Baltimore left for Louisiana yesterday in a convoy of emergency vehicles.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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