Helping hands: Raymond Smith (right) hands his wife a box full of donated non-perishable food Sept. 5 behind the Fulton County Sheriff's Department. Approximately 50 area families donated food and other supplies at the site for Hurricane Katrina survivors who are in the area. Photo/Jared
Fulton and Izard counties are preparing for the possible influx of Gulf Coast evacuees in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Fulton County Emergency Coordinator Al Roork said there are 42 registered evacuees in Fulton County who are staying with friends and family. Roork said authorities had not placed any evacuees in Fulton County as of press time.
Fulton County Judge Charles Willett said Gov. Mike Huckabee mandated Sept. 2 that all 75 Arkansas counties provide a long term shelter for hurricane victims.
Fulton County is setting up a shelter inside the Miller/Hickinbotham building at the Fulton County Fairgrounds.
The shelter will house 40 evacuees and should be ready for use by Sept. 12, Willett said.
Roork said rumors that bus loads of evacuees have been arriving in the Fulton County and adjacent counties are untrue.
"None of the 17 counties in northcentral and northeast Arkansas have received bus loads of evacuees yet," Roork said.
Hurricane Katrina devastated portions of the Gulf Coast last week, killing thousands of people and displacing hundreds of thousands more.
Residents in Fulton County who are uneasy about the prospect of a large number of evacuees in the county should not panic, Roork said.
"Because of our infrastructure I suggested to the county judge that we take a smaller number of about 40," Roork said. "If we do get some it won't be in the hundreds."
It is possible that no evacuees will be placed in the Tri County area, Willett said.
"Right now we've been told there are approximately 70,000 evacuees in the state," Willett said. "Most of them will be processed through Fort Chaffee (in Fort Smith) and then bused to closed military installations across the state."
After the military installations are filled, church camps will be used and then county shelters, Willett said.
Roork said authorities will appoint a mayor and a police chief at each church campground.
"Right now it's a real liquid situation," Roork said. "I'm getting updates from the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management two to three times a day."
As of press time no buses of evacuees were scheduled to arrive in Fulton County, Roork said. For evacuees sent to Fulton County before the shelter is ready a temporary shelter has been set up at Immanuel Baptist Church in Salem.
Evacuees in Fulton County who came on their own need to register in the county judge's office to receive aid.
Willett said families who have already registered are receiving meals and other help. The county is receiving money from the federal government to offset costs associated with helping evacuees.
Salem Superintendent Ken Rich said seven evacuee students have registered in the Salem School District.
Restrictions on admission, including school and shot records, have been waived by the state, Rich said.
He said eventually those records will have to be filed, but no deadline dates for the filings have been set.
Currently the school isn't receiving any special funding for the five elementary students and two high school students, Rich said.
"It hasn't been a problem at all admitting these students," Rich said. "We still receive the normal funding we would when we admit a new student."
Any evacuees placed in the shelter could be there for an extended period of time, Willett said.
"It could be anywhere from six months to two years, we just don't know," Willett said.
Willett said besides facing the hurricane tragedy at work, he sees it at home.
Three families from the affected area stayed at Willett's Fulton County home last week when the storm hit, he said.
One couple who stayed with Willett, Connie and Dennis Williams of St. Tammy Perish in New Orleans, returned after the storm to find their neighborhood destroyed.
"They got to their house on foot and are using a generator for power," Willett said. "The generator uses 15 gallons of gas every eight hours so they're on their way back to my house."
Willett said he was unsure how long his friends will stay with him.
"They're going to stay as long as they need too, until they can get their lives back to normal," he said.
The other families who stayed with the Willetts returned home and are now on their way back as well, he said.
Willett said the help that is being provided by residents, local churches and other organizations is vital.
"And we're going to continue to need their help for some time," he said.
Emergency relief efforts for those displaced by Hurricane Katrina are being coordinated through the Katrina Assistance Relief Effort (KARE).
For more information contact KARE at 877-293-5273 or visit their Web site www.KARE.arkansas.gov.