Evacuees should stay put for now

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Contributed report

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Emergency management officials are appealing to residents of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama who evacuated in advance of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall to stay put.

“This hurricane has caused catastrophic devastation across areas of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama,” said Michael D. Brown, Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Emergency Preparedness and Response and head of FEMA. “FEMA, along with our federal, state and local partners, is working around the clock to get live-saving assistance into the hardest hit areas.

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We need everyone’s cooperation to keep passable roads clear and to prevent those returning from placing additional burdens on the limited shelter, food and water in the heavily impacted areas.”

Many Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama residents heeded evacuation orders and made the safe choice to leave areas threatened by Hurricane Katrina.

Early reports indicate that hundreds of thousands of customers are without power in impacted areas, and for some, it may be many days or weeks before power and other essential utilities are fully restored.

Returning residents could face blocked and washed out roads, downed power lines across highways, unsafe road crossings due to flooding and many other dangers.

Many storm related deaths occur when residents return to their communities and homes, a statistic FEMA is trying to minimize in Katrina’s wake.

“We know people are anxious to return home, but we are asking for everyone’s patience in waiting for the all clear,” said Brown.

“Our greatest concern is the safety of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama residents, first responders and rescue workers.”

FEMA pre-staged emergency response teams and critical commodities such as ice, water, meals ready-to-eat (MREs), and tarps in strategic locations in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida.

Convoys of supplies are moving into heavily impacted areas but with many roads damaged or impassable, it may be several days before emergency workers are able to reach all the victims of Katrina.

FEMA recommends that evacuees tune to local news coverage wherever they are located for ongoing response and recovery information.

Federal, state and local officials will work with the media in these areas to communicate emergency information as it becomes available.

Evacuees can call the American Red Cross’ information line at 1-866-GET-INFO for information regarding emergency assistance and public safety information and road closures.

In addition, Louisiana residents can call the Louisiana State Police at 800-469-4828 to check on roadways that are open and safe for travel in less impacted areas.

FEMA also reemphasized that volunteers should not report directly to the affected areas unless directed by a voluntary agency. Self-dispatched volunteers can put themselves and others in harm’s way and hamper rescue efforts.

FEMA prepares the nation for all hazards and manages federal response and recovery efforts following any national incident. FEMA also initiates mitigation activities, trains first responders, works with state and local emergency managers, and manages the National Flood Insurance Program and the U.S. Fire Administration. FEMA became part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on March 1, 2003.