When Katrina hit, some victims made their way to Southwest Oklahoma and with the help of organizations such as the Red Cross and the United Way were able to begin to get the immediate help they so desperately needed. They were able to be provided basic essentials to life; food, shelter and clothing. And some evacuees have even made Lawton home. Two years later many of the agencies that helped immediately after the disaster are still there for those displaced by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
The Great Plains Chapter of the American Red Cross was instrumental in helping those displaced and hundreds of local volunteers came to answer phones, deliver food and even invite evacuees into their own homes. Living in Tornado Alley, Texomans experience our own brand of disaster, "I had practiced all kinds of disaster scenarios, but I'm sorry, Hurricane recovery wasn't one of them," said Red Cross Director, Tracy Lorah.
It was an on the job lesson for Lorah. She says that over 550 Katrina disaster victims came to Lawton after the levees in New Orleans were breached, leaving many without homes. "And even though we weren't prepared for something like that, and Red Cross and FEMA and there were mistakes made, it's just that it happened," said Lorah. But, they kept going. Through all the setbacks and mistakes, they were able to provide food and shelter for everyone who walked through their doors.
It couldn't have happened without the help of the United Way of Lawton Ft. Sill. It was the agency tasked with coordinating all local resources and more. "We were finding calls on our United Way Help line at the time, we have 211 now, but our help line was receiving calls from people who said, 'I need to find my brother, or I need to find the Red Cross or I need someplace to shelter,'" said United Way Director Eileen Jensen.
She says it was an exciting time and that those from Louisiana were very grateful for the assistance they got there. One woman said, "'You all are like warm milk - and that's what we feed our babies to comfort them.' And that's what she felt when she came to this community.
It's like we were comforting her like a baby who was crying and just wanted to be fed," said Jensen.
The local Red Cross spent over $250,000 to provide evacuees with food, clothes and places to stay. The community itself stepped up to the plate, too, and raised over $70,000 almost immediately. "We do have an awesome community and everybody stepped up - every business, the hotels, the churches, is just how much that people we didn't know from the outside, and everyone was willing to open their arms and provide for these families that had just suffered from devastating loss," said Jensen.
But, Lorah and Jensen both say we still have a lot to do to prepare for future disasters. And, not only for those close to home. "Now we can see it's not just our community we've got to be prepared for. We always tell you to prepare yourself, and prepare for your neighborhood, then prepare to help your community," said And we have to realize, sometimes our community is a little bigger than we think it is," said Lorah.
FEMA is also trying to help people displaced by the two hurricanes back home. They are reimbursing up to $4000 for airline tickets, train, bus or rental vehicles used in the move from the disaster. If you or anyone you know were displaced by the hurricanes between February 1, 2006-February 29, 2008 call 1-800-621-FEMA or visit www.fema.gov.
September is National Disaster Preparedness month and the Comanche County Emergency Management is teaming up with other disaster agencies to teach citizens just what to do in the event of an emergency. They'll be hosting a booth at this years International Festival, the fourth weekend in September. Here are a few tips before then:
Have an emergency supply kit: