MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

April 21, 2013

State ready for next Katrina

— Hurricane Katrina caused billions of dollars of damage, killed many and displaced thousands of people when it crossed the southeast United States in 2005.

Its effects were felt here, as well — about 1,400 evacuees traveled by bus from a devastated Louisiana and through Texas, eventually settling at Camp Gruber.

“We had about three days advance notice,” said Muskogee Emergency Management Director Jimmy Moore. “The Oklahoma Highway Patrol met them at the (Oklahoma-Texas) border.

“It was hectic ... logistically, there was so much to do. It was difficult, though the state of Oklahoma should be proud of what we were able to do for those folks.”

Moore said lessons were learned from the events of 2005. The evacuees stayed in Braggs for about a month, Moore said. Many found a permanent home elsewhere, or found family to move in with, while some stayed in the Muskogee County area.

If it happens again, and Moore said he imagines it will, it will be handled differently.

After Katrina, Oklahoma put together the Oklahoma Sheltering Task Force, a group of more than a dozen emergency managers tasked with taking care of future evacuees.

And this time, the evacuees won’t be brought to Oklahoma — Oklahoma will go to them.

Moore and others would be in charge of setting up a shelter site in Shreveport, La., that would be capable of housing about 2,000 people.

“There are a lot of benefits to it,” Moore said. “It’s more cost-efficient, and the folks would be more comfortable in their own environment. People don’t know, but when those folks got here to Oklahoma, they had been on the bus, some of them, more than 24 hours.”

Moore said the shelter task force had traveled to Shreveport, La., twice since the group’s inception to train and practice setting up the site.

“We can have it up and running in four hours, though by the time we got there, some of the camp would be running already,” Moore said.

The task force would be staying about 10 miles away from the shelter, in an area that Moore and one other person would be in charge of providing care for.

The shelter site is a “pavilion,” Moore said, not unlike a larger civic center-type building. It would provide not just bedding and showers, but also dedicated areas for the disabled or those needing extra oxygen, and even special food items for diabetics. The goal, Moore said, is to set up what amounts to a new, temporary city.

“I hope it never happens again, but eventually it will,” Moore said. “And we’ll be ready.”

Reach Dylan Goforth at (918) 684-2903 or dgoforth@muskogeephoenix.com.

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