Sheriffs' deputies armed with shotguns, volunteers trained to respond to emergencies in the District and morning disc jockeys joined the Washington region's expanding response to Hurricane Katrina yesterday, pushing a broad attempt to aid, police and counsel disaster victims.
Relief efforts included modest gestures such as bake sales and toothbrush collections, as well as large donations by companies or individuals, as local residents and officials sought to process what for many were the nearly unimaginable scenes of devastation and violence on the Gulf Coast. Some said they hoped the somberness of the moment would inspire more vigorous preparations for possible disasters in this area. Others said they were simply following their own instincts about how to help.
Randy Morrow, a Northern Virginia real estate agent, was among those who said they felt bound to give. His response to a hurricane funds drive on WRQX-FM (107.3) yesterday morning helped the station raise $200,000 in about six hours -- twice what the station received in a broader money-raising effort shortly after Sept. 11, 2001.
"I made it $10,001, because when I set my own goals, I always set a goal and try to exceed it by a dollar," Morrow said.
Twenty-two deputies from Loudoun County joined officers from across the country in responding to a call for help from the National Sheriffs' Association. The Loudoun deputies set off yesterday in marked and unmarked cruisers and other vehicles to Jefferson Parish near New Orleans, which has been the scene of looting and unrest. They will be sworn in upon arrival and will have the power to make arrests.
In addition to tanks of gasoline and water, and cans of bug spray and foot powder foraged in an overnight supply run, the Loudoun deputies took along 4,000 extra shotgun shells and 2,000 extra .40-caliber rounds for service revolvers. Authorities in the Gulf Coast region requested the ammunition, according to Loudoun Sheriff Stephen O. Simpson, who added that it is needed to shoot alligators and snakes.
Desperation among the human population is a key safety concern, Simpson said. "I almost feel like a father sending his kids off to war or something. Things are becoming more and more violent as people become more desperate," he said.
Volunteers who trained after Sept. 11, 2001, to respond to terrorist attack or natural disaster in the District have been calling in response to scenes from Katrina and are preparing to be sent to the affected states in coming days, according to Barbara Childs-Pair, director of the D.C. Emergency Management Agency.
Childs-Pair stood on the sidelines at Union Station yesterday as Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff kicked off a long-planned, month-long public relations campaign to spur disaster preparation. That effort has been put in a stark new context by developments on the ground in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, with accompanying questions about the federal government's preparation and response.
"It's getting a reaction out of our local community," Childs-Pair said in an interview, adding that she hopes Washington area residents in general will have a renewed sense of urgency about their planning for man-made or natural disasters given Katrina's destruction.
"Anything's possible in a disaster. . . . It's something that could very well happen in this metropolitan area. We are vulnerable to all kinds of hazards, and being prepared is key," Childs-Pair said.
Other officials emphasized the need for a calm response to uncertainties in the fuel market caused by the disaster.
Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) urged residents to avoid the impulse to rush to gas stations to fill up their tanks, saying that kind of reaction would only make the situation worse. But he said he could not guarantee there would be no shortages.
"What I'm saying is that if every Virginian runs out and tries to top off the gas tank, it's going to make the problem much, much worse," Warner said.
Warner said that equipment from the state Department of Forestry had reached the storm-ravaged region and that a state police helicopter left yesterday morning to help. He called the scenes "devastating" and said he was working with the National Governors Association, of which he is immediate past chairman, to help coordinate assistance from other states.
Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) made two medical vans staffed by nurses available to the Gulf Coast relief effort. CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield has offered to fund the expenses of the two vans, called Wellmobiles.
Staff writer Michael D. Shear contributed to this report.