The Region Responds

Hundreds of Storm Evacuees Coming to D.C. Today by Plane

Verizon employee Trevor Brooks of Fort Washington helps set up phone service in the D.C. Armory's main hall. A bank of 30 pay phones will be toll free.
Verizon employee Trevor Brooks of Fort Washington helps set up phone service in the D.C. Armory's main hall. A bank of 30 pay phones will be toll free. (Photos By Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)
By Theola S. Labbe and Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, September 5, 2005

A planeload of hurricane survivors will arrive in the District today and take shelter at a transformed D.C. Armory, with many more still expected to arrive by bus, D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams disclosed last night.

Amid rapid changes in the nation's plans for coping with the storm's aftermath, the airlift came at the request of Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R), who has found his state overwhelmed by displaced Gulf Coast residents and who "has just asked that the District help out," said the mayor's spokesman, Vince Morris. Williams (D) said he expected about 400 people to arrive today.

The airlift, Morris said, would be in addition to the city's efforts to bring people here in the caravan of buses that left Friday for the storm-battered Gulf area.

"We are trying to be as accommodating as possible," he said.

Williams said last night at Metropolitan Baptist Church that the city ultimately could accept up to 1,000 evacuees. It was unclear when the others might arrive, but Morris said that "the first group will definitely go right to the armory."

That cavernous building was being transformed yesterday from a military drill space into an emergency shelter as dozens of volunteers set up cots, folded towels and carried crates of water.

The desire to help brought out secretaries, mothers, college students and even the famous: Washington Wizards point guard Gilbert Arenas hand-delivered an $18,000 bounty of brand-name provisions he purchased at Costco.

It was also made clear yesterday that the armory is to serve as short-term shelter for many of those brought there, preparing them to move into the community and take advantage of services and opportunities offered by public and private entities.

Meanwhile, the 10 buses that the District sent to bring back displaced residents found no one waiting near New Orleans's convention center and too many buses crowding the airport, D.C. officials said. Federal Emergency Management Agency officials then dispatched the caravan to Baton Rouge, La., to pick up evacuees there.

Last night, D.C. Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) said last night that he expected the buses to remain in the Gulf area until they are filled with evacuees.

The outpouring of assistance and supplies at the armory was perhaps the most visible example of the generosity that has spread through the Washington region in the days after Hurricane Katrina, with churches and neighbors taking in relatives and offering their homes to strangers.

"This region has been amazing," Morris said last night, reeling off the many offers of help that have come in to city offices just yesterday.

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