Making connections

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Selma Times-Journal

About 250 evacuees, area residents and emergency providers crowded into the Larry Striplin Performing Arts Center Tuesday at the city’s evacuee meeting.

“What we intend to do is communicate to you the resources that are available to you,” Mayor James Perkins Jr. said.

More than 80 evacuees were identified at last night’s meeting, contradicting a report from the state Emergency Management Agency and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“Our numbers don’t really match reality sometimes,” Jeff Byard of the state EMA said.

Primarily, the meeting was held to provide evacuees with services they needed.

Emergency and community organizations were given two minutes to explain to the audience exactly what they could provide to evacuees in the Dallas County area.

Officials from the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Dallas and Selma City Schools, FEMA, the state EMA and the Department of Human Resources all offered their services. Many of the programs, like financial assistance from the Red Cross, were offered from the start of relief efforts. Others, like DHR’s STAR program, are brand new, and have only been offered recently.

While evacuees were given helpful information, frustrations were apparent from some criticism offered to state EMA and FEMA officials.

When Byard said evacuees should register with FEMA via the organization’s 800 number, he was met with shouts of “You can’t get through!”

Other residents were angry with the inability of FEMA to provide basic services.

Tarana Burke of 21st Century Leadership criticized FEMA for the lack of information.

21st Century Leadership is providing shelter for victims of Katrina at its camp in Perry County.

“Why can’t the staff know basic information?” she asked.

Joan Rave, representing FEMA, asked for patience in the situation.

“Our operation was stretched flat out,” she said.

Perkins quickly regained control of the meeting.

“I intend for this to go to some logical conclusion,” he said. “I want us to be respectful of people that are talking.”

Perkins also asked FEMA for help in starting a new operations center for evacuees.

Perkins said the site would serve as a central point for victims to receive help and other resources.

“In that location we’re going to find what you need,” Perkins said to the assembled evacuees.