OLYMPIA – As Washington residents open their wallets and communities to Hurricane Katrina victims, Gov. Christine Gregoire said Friday the state and counties are assembling a fresh inventory of housing to use should Washington have its own disaster or terrorist attack.
Thus far, Washington is hosting hundreds of Katrina refugees, not several thousand, as originally expected. State and federal officials are helping an estimated 1,200 people settle into temporary homes here. The Red Cross has about 600 individuals or families logged in.
Gregoire told a news conference that the state won’t be needed for any major airlifts, but could have accommodated the 2,000 evacuees the state was originally asked to take, plus hundreds more who would come on their own.
The state has opened a “welcome center” in Tumwater and is trying to reunite scattered families and sign up refugees for a variety of services.
Gregoire said one man at the Tumwater site said, “Now this truly is Southern hospitality.”
The state sent crews of government officials, doctors and nurses and National Guardsmen to the Gulf Coast. The state Air National Guard is spearheading aviation efforts in the Gulf region.
Gregoire presented Red Cross officials with a $600,000 check. The money was raised by “Washington Cares,” a hastily organized relief effort sponsored by the governor’s office, Washington Mutual Inc., and the Retired Public Employees Council.
Money is still rolling in, and Washington residents also are donating directly to the Red Cross and other relief organizations, the governor noted.
“I’m proud that our state is doing all we can to make a difference,” the governor said. Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco called with effusive praise for Washington’s help, she said.
Gregoire said one of the big side benefits to Washington is the quick assembling of an up-to-date inventory of places where large numbers of evacuees could be housed in another disaster.
Authorities will continue working on the inventory and will make sure each county disaster preparedness plan includes a comprehensive local list, she said. The inventory should include large sites – such as arenas, hotels, military bases, government-owned buildings and dormitories, and schools – as well as smaller facilities, she said.
Overall, the state’s hurry-up development of a plan for Katrina refugees went “unbelievably well,” the governor said.
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