- The Washington Times - Friday, September 9, 2005

The hurricane evacuees now living inside the D.C. Armory are slowly coming to terms with their new life, leaving the temporary shelter in the morning to look for work and tour what, for some, might become their new home.

“The past few days have been uplifting for me,” said Kenneth Boyd, 30, who came from New Orleans with his girlfriend, Timothea Montgomery. “D.C. has been very good to us.”

The two were rescued Monday and are among the 215 remaining evacuees from New Orleans who arrived Tuesday at the armory. Some of the evacuees yesterday afternoon were out looking for jobs while others stayed around the armory, seeking information about contacting family and taking a moment to reflect.

“I’m just kind of getting back into my senses, because I’ve been messed up for the past week or so,” Mr. Boyd said. “We almost didn’t make it.”

Miss Montgomery, 30, said the people inside the armory have done everything they could to help.

“Not just the volunteers, but the Red Cross, government officials, everybody,” she said.

Miss Montgomery’s three young children left the city with their grandmother while she waited for Mr. Boyd. However, a broken fuel pump on Mr. Boyd’s car dashed their plans to evacuate the day before Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast.

“I’m the one who is missing,” Miss Montgomery said as she began to cry. “They don’t know if I’m dead or alive. I have a cell phone, but I can’t get in touch. … Today is my baby’s birthday.”

The Red Cross is running operations inside the armory and trying to help the evacuees return to a normal life, as much as possible, said Cameron Ballantyne, spokesman for the American Red Cross of the National Capital Area.

“We just want to make sure that they’re properly clothed, then give them a hot meal and a roof over their heads,” he said.

Mr. Ballantyne said the Metropolitan Police Department is providing 24-hour security at the armory and that operations inside shut down at about 10 p.m., though the evacuees can come and go as they please.

Entertainer and activist Dick Gregory yesterday toured the facility, after visiting Houston, which is helping thousands more evacuees. Mr. Gregory said he will fast for 90 days in protest of the handling of relief efforts.

The Red Cross has issued debit cards to evacuees at the Reliant Center in Houston, according to the Houston Chronicle. The cards are worth a few hundred dollars to a couple thousand dollars, depending on the size of the family and the age of the children.

The newspaper reported the Red Cross plans to issue the cards to evacuees outside the larger shelters. However, a Red Cross official yesterday did not know when or if the cards would be available to evacuees in the armory, on East Capitol Street SE.

The cost of providing for the survivors will be reimbursed by the federal government, said Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican and chairman of the Senate’s D.C. appropriations subcommittee, who joined city leaders at the armory yesterday.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved $6 million for the city and likely will grant more, he said.

The Greater Washington Urban League yesterday brought together about 60 community members interested in participating in a coalition to providing hurricane relief.

The group, calling itself the Katrina Open Arms Coalition, will coordinate relief efforts with city officials and provide long-term support for evacuees in the District.

“We are going to open our arms to the city and open our arms to those in need and go from one to the other,” league President Maudine R. Cooper said.

Among those interested in helping was Ayaz Khattak, a D.C. taxi driver who offered to transport elderly or disabled evacuees.

“I was promoting human rights in Pakistan and this is like my whole life,” said Mr. Khattak, 43.

Barbara Childs-Pair, director of the D.C. Emergency Management Agency, addressed the group and stressed a need for volunteers with organizational skills and such items as toiletries and children’s books.

The coalition is also forming a partnership with the Community Foundation in Northwest. The foundation raised $22 million for victims of September 11 in the region. Officials said corporate partners have already donated $300,000 to a fund for Katrina victims.

Also yesterday, Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican and chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, visited the Armed Forces Retirement Home in the District where roughly 325 veterans from Gulfport, Miss., are now staying.

“The senator was extremely pleased with the visit,” said Jeff Schrade, communications director for the Senate committee. “Every veteran with whom [Mr. Craig] spoke expressed gratitude for being at such a great facility.”

Mr. Schrade said rebuilding the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Gulfport from where the veterans evacuated will take years.

The retirement home in the District is asking for at least 30 necessities — including clothing, household goods and much-needed nail clippers.

“It’s going extremely well,” said Gregory Moore, a public affairs officer for the D.C. retirement home, on North Capitol Street NW. “We’re learning. We continue to make improvement.”

Mr. Moore said most of the new arrivals are about 85 to 90 years old, so the move has been difficult for many. “But some of these people are Pearl Harbor and World War II survivors,” he said. “They’ve lived through worse.”

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