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Far From Ike's Trail, but Still Ready to Help Pick Up Pieces From Storm

By David A. Fahrenthold and Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, September 13, 2008

Washington is more than 1,000 miles from Hurricane Ike's track across south Texas. But after a day of watching weather reports and talking to friends in the storm's path, Jerri Ann Henry had to remind herself she wasn't there.

"I'm hearing so much from people about the storm; I see the overcast skies" over Washington, Henry said. Suddenly, she said, she felt the impulse to stock up on bottled water. "I've stopped myself twice today to [remember] I don't have to buy supplies."

Henry, 25, a Dallas native who lives in Alexandria, was one of many Washington area residents who turned their attention to the Gulf Coast yesterday as Ike bore down. Some responders were already on their way: Local search-and-rescue teams, power-company linemen and charity workers were all dispatched to help in the storm's aftermath.

Two search-and-rescue teams, one based in Fairfax County and another from Montgomery County, were headed to staging points in Louisiana. Between them, there were nearly 70 people, including paramedics and firefighters trained in searching collapsed buildings. They carried GPS equipment, emergency meals and food for their search dogs.

Workers from the Red Cross and Salvation Army readied shelters and emergency meals.

But for many others worried about friends and relatives in Texas, the only thing to do was sit and wait. And call. And send messages via BlackBerry and Facebook.

"I'm glued to the television, watching the storm loom over the Gulf," said Jenifer Sarver of Glover Park, who yesterday checked on 15-plus friends in Texas through every means of communication she could find.

"You don't want to use the word 'dread,' " Sarver said. "But it is a little bit of dread, knowing that it's going there, and you can't do anything to stop it. It's a feeling of helplessness."

Ike was expected to make landfall in Texas late last night, bringing heavy rains and winds of up to 105 mph to a long swath of coastline. Already yesterday, the hurricane's storm surge had inundated some low-lying communities and waves were crashing at the top of the seawall erected to protect Galveston.

"It's kind of, you know, an anxious apprehension" not knowing what the hurricane would bring, said Montgomery County Assistant Chief Scott Graham as he traveled through an outlying band of rain near the Mississippi-Louisiana border. "You know how it rains when the sun's out? We're starting to get a little of that."

Area utilities were also sending linemen and tree trimmers to restore electricity after Ike passes. Pepco and Baltimore Gas and Electric planned to dispatch 170 people between them. Dominion contributed 200 contract workers, who were already in the Gulf Coast area cleaning up in the wake of Hurricane Gustav, a utility spokesman said.

Washington area charities were also in the midst of Ike preparations. The American Red Cross has opened about 55 shelters in Texas cities, which as of yesterday have sheltered about 3,000 people. It has brought in 2,100 people for disaster response, and 100 mobile feeding trucks with the combined capacity to serve nearly 500,000 meals a day, spokeswoman Lesly Simmons said.

The Salvation Army is staging about 260 relief workers in San Antonio with about 60 mobile kitchens, which can serve 500 hot meals each. And the Humane Society of the United States dispatched staff and equipment to Texas, including rescue boats and a 75-foot air-conditioned mobile animal shelter.

"We have also put our entire animal rescue team on alert," said Scotlund Haisley, the Humane Society's senior director for emergency services.

Washington area residents could only spend the day watching the weather, Internet reports and round-the-clock weather coverage for any change in the forecast, any shift in the storm's track.

Matthew Bessman, a District resident who grew up in Galveston, had fielded multiple calls from his mother, who evacuated the island to a friend's house about 45 minutes inland. I'm leaving the house, she called to say. I'm stuck in traffic. Then, finally: I made it.

"She even called me to ask if there was anything I wanted from my room," he said. "Your classic mom."

Bessman said he was more worried about his father, a doctor, who had stayed behind at a hospital on the island.

"You hope for the best," said Bessman, who said he knew disaster-response well from a stint working for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. "My dad knows what he's doing. And, in theory, the government knows what they're doing."

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