- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 6, 2005

More rescue workers from across the region made their way south yesterday to contribute to the Hurricane Katrina relief effort, but a flow of evacuees expected to take refuge in the D.C. Armory did not materialize.

About 400 New Orleans evacuees were expected to arrive at Andrews Air Force Base from Arkansas yesterday evening, but officials delayed the plans by at least a day.

Air Force Capt. Mark Takamiya, a spokesman for the base, said the delay was due to “the chaos of the whole situation.”

The operation is being conducted through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Defense using federal planes to fly storm victims out of temporary shelters in Arkansas.

Meanwhile, a convoy of local buses charged with transporting storm victims to shelters in the District arrived in Alabama yesterday on its way back after spending almost two days in a fruitless search for survivors needing transportation.

“If we had known what we know now, we might not have sent the buses,” said D.C. Council member David A. Catania, an at-large independent who started the relief effort.

The 10 buses and more than 30 D.C. employees left for Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport on Friday, loaded with supplies for shelters and relief workers.

The convoy members delivered the supplies, but by the time the buses arrived at the airport to pick up evacuees, the airport had been converted to a field hospital whose population could not be moved.

Early Sunday, the buses went to the New Orleans Convention Center, where thousands of displaced people had been stuck for several days in desperate conditions. By that time, the center had been almost completely evacuated.

WTOP (AM 1500) reported yesterday that two of the 10 drivers, frustrated by the mission’s lack of direction, quit Sunday night, turning their buses around and heading back home.

A caravan of 20 fire department vehicles carrying 75 Montgomery County emergency workers left for Louisiana yesterday, the latest local rescue crews to contribute to the relief effort.

“The mission will be to replace New Orleans firefighters who have been on the job nonstop since the hurricane hit their city,” said Pete Piringer, a spokesman for the fire department.

Mr. Piringer said Montgomery County’s Urban Search and Rescue Team was headed back from Waveland, Miss., after about a week on duty. He said the team conducted three live rescues.

An EMS strike force of 45 medics from across Maryland joined the caravan on a separate mission to West Jefferson Medical Center in Marrero, La. The mission, organized by the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems, is to assist in patient care, rescue and recovery.

A four-person team of rescue workers from the Prince George’s County fire department also deployed yesterday to assist in the relief efforts.

The head of the D.C. Emergency Management Agency said yesterday that Louisiana officials asked the District to send police officers, firefighters and equipment, and incident management teams for deployment terms of 14 days to three months.

Barbara Childs-Pair, director of the agency, said D.C. officials are “seriously considering” the request.

Alan Etter, a spokesman for the D.C. Fire and EMS Department, said the department also is sponsoring a collection drive, during which people can stop by a city firehouse and donate “pretty much anything that’s nonperishable.”

A second group of Virginia Army National Guard soldiers will be deployed from Sandston today. The 225 soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 116th Infantry will join more than 190 soldiers and airmen of the Virginia National Guard deployed in Louisiana.

A second unit of D.C. National Guardsmen also will be deployed today for Louisiana, bringing the number of D.C. Guardsmen in the area up to about 200.

The evacuee operation is expected to cost the District at least $6 million, and FEMA has “offered to take care of most or all of” it, Mrs. Childs-Pair said.

She said the $6 million estimate is “a very, very rough number,” but added, “we will try to get every penny eligible back from FEMA.”

The 64,000-square-foot armory can accommodate slightly more than 400 people, said Cameron Ballantyne, a spokesman for the American Red Cross of the National Capital Area. If more people come, D.C. officials have considered converting the D.C. General building in Southeast and three closed public school buildings in the area to shelters.

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