- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 7, 2005

More than 200 Hurricane Katrina survivors arrived at the D.C. Armory yesterday, the first in a stream of evacuees expected to seek refuge in the District in the coming weeks.

The 295 men, women and children clutched backpacks, stuffed animals and plastic bags full of belongings as they stepped off the 12 Metro buses that were accompanied by a police escort. They were flown on two commercial airplanes from hurricane-ravaged New Orleans to Washington Dulles International Airport yesterday.

Looking out the bus windows, the evacuees smiled and waved as about 20 D.C. residents stood outside the armory gate cheering and holding a “Welcome to D.C.” sign.

“The word I would use for us is blessed,” said Jameila Anderson, 19, who arrived with her boyfriend, Mike Farrell, and his mother, Cendy Farrell. “Just to have people here to give me a hug — and I really love hugs — makes me feel warm. As soon as I stepped off that bus, instantly I felt like I was at home.”

Bob Barback, 78, said it felt “great” to arrive in the District, but he couldn’t shake memories of his ordeal. “The water came up real fast,” he said, recalling how he escaped his New Orleans home. “I had to take a hammer, break down the door and dive under water to get out.”

Once the evacuees walked into the armory, they were greeted by D.C. officials, American Red Cross workers and volunteers.

Michelle Carter, 38, a volunteer who had waited several hours for the buses to arrive, said she was happy the evacuees finally came.

“We are ready for them; we really are,” she said. “I am so excited and glad they are finally here — we are here to welcome them to their new home.”

The first plane, which landed at 11:30 a.m., carried 177 persons, including at least 10 children and two infants. Two persons were taken from the plane to a hospital in Virginia.

The second plane, which landed at 1:30 p.m., carried 118 persons, two dogs and a parrot. Animal rescue workers took the pets to a nearby animal shelter where they would be reunited with their owners.

Many evacuees said they didn’t know they were being flown to the D.C. area. Several hours after their arrival, some left the armory either to stay with family or head back south to reconnect with loved ones.

Mimi Guste, a musician who declined to give her age, was the first to leave. She headed for her sister’s home in McLean. A resident of the French Quarter, she stayed in her New Orleans home until Sunday, when authorities forced her to go to the city’s convention center.

“About 200 to 300 of us stayed in our homes there because we wanted to wait it out and we didn’t trust the government,” she said. “Life wasn’t bad there and it wasn’t wet. We didn’t need to leave. We were eating salmon, but they forced us out.”

D.C. officials said as many as 1,000 evacuees could come to the D.C. area in the near future.

“We have thousands of people that are without homes,” said Barbara Childs-Pair, director of the D.C. Emergency Management Agency. “We have thousands of people that need to be put in shelter and be taken care of.”

Since the armory can hold only up to 400 persons, other evacuees would be housed elsewhere, possibly in three closed school buildings or at D.C. General Hospital, officials said.

One person aboard a flight bound for the District tried to commit suicide.

The United Express flight with eight evacuees aboard originated in Houston and was diverted to Nashville, Tenn., where the man was taken to a hospital.

The Transportation Security Administration said the man cut his wrists with a small razor blade.

At the pilot’s request, all passengers underwent a second security screening before the flight resumed.

Plans to fly about 400 people from Arkansas on military planes to Andrews Air Force Base remained on hold yesterday, as officials waited for flight schedules to clear.

A convoy of 10 buses sent from the District last week to pick up more than 400 evacuees in New Orleans was on its way back yesterday, carrying only one evacuee. The search for survivors there needing transportation proved nearly fruitless.

For those evacuees who will decide to remain permanently in the District, D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams said yesterday the city is preparing affordable housing and employment options for them.

“We’re going to do everything we can to create a functional place for these people here in our community,” he said.

Other local communities are ready to offer shelter for more evacuees or send more help to the Gulf Coast.

Officials in Prince George’s County said more than 200 evacuees are already in the county, and county leaders hope to organize a way to bring more in.

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. authorized the deployment of additional Maryland National Guard troops, including more than 100 members of the 1229th Transportation Company, bringing the total number of Maryland Army and Air National Guard members in the region to 320.

Baltimore city workers set up 300 cots in the Clarence “Du” Burns Arena for potential evacuees. Police officials huddled there to work out a security plan, although a date for refugees to arrive hasn’t been determined.

A spokesman for Virginia Gov. Mark Warner said Virginia will take in thousands of evacuees. The majority of them will be housed temporarily at Fort Pickett near Blackstone, Va. The military base has been marked for closure.

“Our goal is to get them in and out quickly and help get them into communities,” said Warner spokesman Kevin Hall. He said he thinks the victims will stay on a 30- to 60-day time frame.

About 400 evacuees will be sheltered at the Virginia United Methodist Assembly Center nearby.

The American Red Cross and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management will serve as lead agencies, working with Social Services to help coordinate short-term disaster-relief benefits and federal benefits and long-term case management for the evacuees.

“We know at this point in the disaster that longer-term solutions must be offered than simply a cot in a convention center,” Mr. Warner said. “Virginians want to help — and it’s our challenge to get the folks in need to the right intermediary home as quickly and safely as possible. They need to recover and stabilize before they can begin to sort out their lives.”

• Christina Bellantoni and Robert Redding Jr. contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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