The District

Armed Forces Retirement Home Opens Doors to Displaced Brethren

By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 31, 2005

They got extra beds from storage, aired out unoccupied rooms and opened up an unused dormitory. Floors were mopped, bathrooms scrubbed and light bulbs replaced.

There was a buzz yesterday among residents at the Armed Forces Retirement Home on North Capitol Street and a sense of urgency among the staff: Company was coming. Lots of it.

Officials of the Northwest Washington retirement facility learned it was getting as many as 416 new residents from its storm-damaged sister home in Gulfport, Miss., which was rendered uninhabitable by Hurricane Katrina.

Most of the newcomers would be making the 1,000-mile trip aboard 10 chartered buses, which were scheduled to leave Gulfport last night, officials said. The buses were to arrive in Washington late today or sometime tomorrow, after at least one overnight in the Atlanta area.

"We get them up here, we're going to get them comfortable," said Chuck Dickerson, chief of resident services at the historic Washington home that houses about 1,000 retirees. "We're going to give them the medical care they need. We're going to get them a bed. We're going to get them a shower. We're going to feed them. We're going to take care of them, because they're ours."

Officials said there was little choice but to relocate the Gulfport residents, who spent a harrowing Monday huddled in their 11-story beachfront facility as the storm came ashore virtually on their doorstep.

Timothy C. Cox, chief operating officer in charge of both homes, said 10 feet of water surged into the ground floor of the Gulfport home, ruining the kitchen, dining room, bowling alley and long-term care facility and submerging the emergency generator. The hurricane also blew down the home's water tower.

There was no power, no running water, limited phone service and food for only a few days. Plus, the weather was hot and humid yesterday. "Every hour makes it worse," Cox said.

The residents had to be moved, and they will probably not be able to return for months, he said.

"The wind and the pressure was incredible," Cox said, citing reports from the interim director in Gulfport. "The windows were just popping out because of the pressure." He said that although the average resident is 77 years old, no one was hurt.

He said a ranch house on the complex used for visitors was blown away, as was the eight-foot-high brick and steel fence around the 49-acre complex's perimeter.

"We know that it's going to take months to just find out how much it will cost us to" rebuild, he said. "So we really want people to be safe and secure here. And fortunately, because of some of our older buildings that we have here, we can house all 416 if they choose."


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