Skip to comments.Katrina evacuees meet calm after the storm in Arkansas
Posted on 09/12/2005 5:23:36 AM PDT by sweetliberty
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) -- Escaping the confusion of Hurricane Katrina, Gulf Coast refugees found a surprise in Arkansas. The poor Southern state, often beset by its own natural disasters, had beds, meals and an emergency plan that helped it absorb a 2.5 percent jump in its population.
"They treat us absolutely fantastic," said Leon Johnson of New Orleans, staying at a camp in Little Rock. "They got a group of people and they opened their arms out and make us as welcome as possible. They're taking care of our needs."
Arkansas took in more than 60,000 refugees after Katrina arrived - only Texas took in more. Gov. Mike Huckabee is out preaching the Golden Rule and reminding Arkansans of help they receive after the almost-annual ice storms and tornadoes.
"I ask people, 'Have you been to New Orleans?'" Huckabee said. "These are people who drove your carriage down Canal Street. They carried your bags to your hotel room and picked up the dishes when you finished eating. By golly, we're going to be there to take care of them now."
During previous storms, Gulf Coast residents have packed southern Arkansas hotels for days at a time, but it was clear early on that this was a lot worse. When it appeared that Louisiana and Mississippi were going to need a lot of help, Huckabee met with cabinet members to lay out Arkansas' response.
"The migration of evacuees is not unlike the migration of ducks," Huckabee said. "People go as far as they have to go, but they try not to go too far from home. So naturally Arkansas became a safe haven."
Within a day of the storm coming ashore in Louisiana with 145 mph, Huckabee had a plan and a Web site to promote it: Operation: KARE (Katrina Assistance Relief Effort) at http://www.kare.arkansas.gov
Huckabee estimated that 50,000 came on their own, seeking motels or relatives. The influx slowed to a trickle before the broad evacuation of New Orleans brought 9,000 to a makeshift processing center at Fort Chaffee.
Texas initially took more than 100,000 refugees, many of them to Houston's Astrodome and other sites in southern Texas. States as far as away as Arizona, Utah and West Virginia accepted refugees, but no place took a larger percentage of its own population than Arkansas.
Some of Huckabee's reaction could be instinct. Huckabee is a Southern Baptist preacher and in nine years as Arkansas governor has quickly offered relief and provided a prayer as the state recovered from tornadoes and ice storms.
Some of Huckabee's reaction could be political. Huckabee is weighing a run for president in 2008. He shares a hometown with Bill Clinton - Hope - but said his reaching out to evacuees has nothing to do with a potential run for higher office.
"That's of no concern to me right now," Huckabee said as he visited the Operation: KARE call center a week ago.
Arkansas is on Louisiana's northern border and ties between the states are plentiful. They share an electric utility, their main college football teams are rivals and Census Bureau figures show many Arkansas natives now live in Louisiana, and vice versa.
When 1 million of Arkansas' 2.8 million residents lost power during a 2000 ice storm, Louisiana linemen came to help restore electricity.
In the Katrina response, Arkansas has fallen into three stages: immediate aid, intermediate relocation and long-term assistance, like jobs, schooling and housing. As the thousands arrived at Fort Chaffee, they were systematically processed and sent to a statewide network of smaller church camps.
Camp Aldersgate in Little Rock took in 60 refugees. Set in the woods, it is the calm after the storm.
"If you look back from where we came from and the ordeal we came through, this is a blessing," said John Cannon of New Orleans, as he pored over a newspaper on one of the camp benches. "The atmosphere that exists helps you to have some peace and contentment with yourself, especially as you reflect."
Many of the evacuees, accustomed to an urban lifestyle, were sent to rural areas. The Lawrence County town of Imboden has taken in more than 300 evacuees, nearly half its population.
"It's difficult because their culture is different," said Lawrence County Judge Alex Latham, the county's chief administrative officer. "For the most part everybody is coping."
Already one of the nation's poorest states, Arkansas legislative leaders and the governor have said it would be appropriate to spend part of the state's $123 million budget surplus to help storm victims.
Some Arkansans opened their spare bedrooms and vacation homes to refugees, while others volunteers are taking in pets that local Humane Society can't keep.
Hundreds of Arkansas National Guard soldiers, back from Iraq earlier this year, are now deployed in Louisiana and Mississippi. The Arkansas State Police sent troopers. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has sent workers to help and the state Game and Fish Commission has wildlife officers in affected areas.
Many evacuees are doing their share as well, finding jobs and volunteering themselves.
"Time and again people are saying, 'I'm staying here. This is home for me now,'" Huckabee said. "People at camps are saying `Put me to work.'"
The state has a job database set up for that. Operation KARE has programs to reunite families, help refugees obtain federal aid, find apartments and enroll their children into local school districts. State education officials have yet to tally the influx.
The evacuee processing form has a section for "services needed" and offers help for those with special needs, mental illnesses, pregnant women and those needing legal help. It seems the state is ready to fill any need the refugees may have. There's also a section for funeral assistance.
So many people came into Arkansas that other governors, from Iowa, Idaho and Oklahoma contacted Huckabee offering to take in refugees or send help. Federal defense authorities dubbed the Little Rock Air Force Base the nation's hub for foreign aid deliveries with planes already landing from China, Egypt, Great Britain, Israel, Italy and Russia.
Following Huckabee's lead, Arkansans are going the extra mile. Refugees staying at Camp Aldersgate were treated to a free outdoor showing of "Star Wars" last week at Little Rock's Riverfront Amphitheatre.
"I don't think any of us anticipated the level of devastation, the number of evacuees or the length of time we'd be looking at," Huckabee said. "Right now we're truly blessed to be able to extend friendship and warmth and hospitality to them."
Do you suppose Bubba will be busing these people to his Arkansas library?
and HILLARY wil be there to greet them. I just smell big Photo-op coming.
Politics aside, this is the difference between competence and negligence. Take notes, Blanco.
Very nice article, sl! thanks for the ping.
Didn't know that "Huckabee is a Southern Baptist preacher"
Sounds like your state's got it's act together.
Good morning and see you later....need to get to work. Have a nice one. : )
Maybe I can't count but seems like there are more displaced persons than the population of the states effected. All you have to do is say "I lost everything". Hope there are some kind of checks on all the money handed out.
You just HAD to go there!
Arkansas may be a poor state, but they've got some good, down to earth people who seem to be more than willing to help others.
Yeah, that was kind of my thinking, too.
Here we have the DiS-associated press thinking they are printing out a "nice quote? but they really did!
"THEY'RE TAKING CARE OF OUR NEEDS."
The epitome of the nanny/mammy/SALVE state mentality!
What else is happening in the "Banana Republik of Arkansas" ?
The jerk Right Rev Guv huckabee ---- the first thing you hear on the Arkansas Network News??
The federal government did NOT help much!
Leftist whinning from the leftist democrat huckabee who wants to be the Presidential candidate for the RNC? Gives one pause when huckabee is a "anointed one" of the RNC.
Well, I wouldn't go THAT far. On the down side, the Little Rock, Pine Bluff and Mississippi delta areas are drooling over all those new democRAT voters. They've probably started handing out voter registration forms in the evacuation centers.
" I just smell big Photo-op coming "
the "Huckster" is taking every photo op and tv & radio hilite to bash the "federal response" --- funny he isn't mentioning the other "progressive" politicians in La whose jobs it actually is to take care of Louisiana!
Why does Huckabee bash republicans but praise the social democrat party ?
Congrats to Arkansas, and it's also good to read about this positive attitude among the evacuees. It's probably more common than we realize, but the press likes to obsess on the passive-aggressive whiner contingent rather than on the people who are pulling themselves together and doing something.
There is a process they have to go through here. I'm sure a few bad apples will slip through, but you can't turn your back on the innocent in need because a handful may not be deserving.
"He makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matt. 5:45)
The ones I've talked to in person left me with no doubt in my mind. They have a kind of disoriented detachment about them. Hard to describe.
Absolutely. I'm seeing people working tirelessly to rise to that need.
Don't fret my child. There's a wonderful day ahead.
Most of what I have seen is grief mixed with gratitude. I really haven't seen any whining or blaming here. Of course, I'm up in the Ozarks. It's considerably more conservative here and a lot of the folks here evacuated prior to the storm and have nothing to go back to. Quite a few more came after, too, though.
You're right about the "numbers" they aren't adding up.
We were told TX took in 250,000 people and than they said there are about 15,000 people in the Astrodome, so where did the other thousands go? I think the figure was 9,000 in Reunion Arena. Laura Miller said she was permanently placing 1500 in apartments all over Dallas. Yet there were over 19,000 kids placed in schools.
Those placed in apartments and homes, is the govt going to pay for the apts and homes indefinitely??
In the construction business, he took the money and ran. He was picked up not too far from where I live in Upstate New York.
Yes, Mike..we are taking care of them and I have contributed. But let's be honest. They were paid in NO to do these service jobs, not counting the "tips" they received.
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