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Evacuees unlikely to come

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Emergency coordinator says evacuee shelter may remain unused

Hurricane Katrina had the strength to cripple a major U.S. city and drive hundreds of thousands of people from their homes on the Gulf Coast, but the storm may not force evacuees into Fulton County.

Al Roork, Fulton County emergency coordinator, said it is unlikely the county will receive any evacuees who will have to be placed in its evacuee shelter.

"Right now it looks like we won't get any evacuees from Fort Chaffee," Roork said.

Fort Chaffee in Fort Smith is the staging area for evacuees of Hurricane Katrina.

Gov. Mike Huckabee said there are 100,000 or more evacuees in the state.

Fulton County Judge Charles Willett said approximately 60 evacuees are in the county staying with family or friends.

Willett said all evacuees who are staying in the county with family or friends must register in the judge's office to receive aid.

Roork said if evacuees are brought to the county they will be housed in the Miller/Hickinbotham Building at the Fulton County Fairgrounds.

"If they decide to send people up here we can kick it into high gear and get that place ready if we need to," Roork said.

The shelter can house up to 40 persons.

Roork, who also serves as Salem's police chief, said he is concerned about potential problems if more than 40 evacuees are brought into the county.

"We just don't have the infrastructure or manpower to handle a large group," Roork said.

New Orleans and the Louisiana boot were evacuated so quickly that many felons or and felony suspects were mixed with other evacuees, Roork said.

"You have to have the security in place to deal with possible felons or other people who are capable of committing serious crimes," Roork said. "All of these shelters and camps are going to have to take extra security measures."

Camp Kia Kima in Cherokee Village could also be used as a shelter to house approximately 50 people, but Roork said it is unlikely it will be utilized.

Salem Superintendent Ken Rich said nine evacuee children have registered in the Salem School District. Rich said the new students are acclimating to their new surroundings.

"We're going to provide them with the best education we possible can, and so far everything seems to be going well," Rich said.

Currently, 741 students are enrolled in the Salem School District, an increase of 19 students over last year's enrollment numbers, Rich said.

Even with the influx of evacuee students, Rich said the rise in enrollment is normal.

During his tenure as superintendent and principal, Rich said he has seen the school district fluctuate between 710 students and 780 students.

Roork said those who want to contribute money to the relief efforts need to be careful. He said many of the on-line sites devoted to hurricane relief efforts are scams.

"The two best places to give money are the Red Cross and Salvation Army," Roork said.



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