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Officials Offer to Bus Hundreds of Refugees to Armory

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By Eric M. Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 2, 2005

District officials are working on a plan to bring as many as 400 New Orleans refugees to Washington and shelter them in the D.C. Armory.

D.C. Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large), City Administrator Robert C. Bobb and other District officials spent yesterday scrambling to help with the desperate health and safety conditions caused by Hurricane Katrina.

"We're a city with a lot of resources and a big heart," Catania said.

A spokesman for Metro said the District asked the transit agency to secure 10 buses equipped with restrooms to help bring refugees to the District. The buses would leave today for New Orleans or Houston, where some residents have been taken, and return on Labor Day.

City officials said the Red Cross would decide who would come to the District.

Charles Blake, senior director of emergency and international services for the American Red Cross of the Capital Area, said he will meet with city officials this morning to discuss the plan and what exactly the city would require of the Red Cross. He said the agency would have a problem choosing who gets relief.

"I'm not saying it's not going to happen or it is going to happen," Blake said. "There are implications for every decision, and we need to talk about how we want to do this and make sure we're thinking of the total process."

Salt Lake City and Charlotte are also preparing to accept Gulf Coast area refugees, according to the Red Cross.

Jo'Ellen Countee, a spokeswoman for the D.C. Emergency Management Agency, offered details of the city's plan but stressed that it "is a work in progress."

Twenty caseworkers with the city's Human Services Department would travel to the area on the buses and assist the displaced residents on the ride back, Countee said.

At the armory, the city's emergency plans for "mass care" would kick in, providing refugees with drinking water, food from on-site or mobile kitchens and access to basic medical care, counseling and other social services.

Countee said Maj. Gen. David F. Wherley Jr., commanding general of the D.C. National Guard, has given permission to use the armory.

The armory has a 64,722-square-foot main hall that can be configured to seat as many as 10,000 people and has shower facilities, according to a spokesman for the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission.

Sheltering hundreds of refugees for an undetermined duration would force the cancellation of numerous events at the armory. This month and next, six concerts, two receptions, a job fair and an expo for the Marine Corps Marathon are to be held there.

Steven Taubenkibel, a Metro spokesman, said the buses used to transport the refugees would not be Metrobuses because they do not have restrooms and are not designed to handle a 1,100-mile trip between Washington and New Orleans. The Transit Authority is arranging to find buses and drivers as a favor to the District, which would pay for the buses, he said.

Catania praised Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), Bobb and other city officials for putting the relief effort together quickly.

Catania said that a member of his staff is from New Orleans and that the office has been working to bring her mother to the District. He said another member of the staff member's family has not been heard from since Katrina devastated the region.

He said District residents have always been generous to those in need.

"It might very well be us someday because of a natural or other emergency," Catania said. "It's good karma for us to be in the business of reaching out."


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