Rita could alter plans for closing local shelter|[9/20/05]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 20, 2005

With Hurricane Rita bearing down on the Gulf, plans to move up the closing date for Vicksburg’s lone shelter for evacuees of Hurricane Katrina may be re-examined today.

The National Hurricane Center said Rita, which became a hurricane as it crossed the Florida Keys this morning, could make landfall along the Gulf from the upper Texas coast to central Louisiana later this week

Before Rita became such a threat, during the daily briefing of government and volunteer entities at the Joint Command Center at the Vicksburg Convention Center, officials discussed closing the shelter Friday because evacuees were moving out more quickly than expected. Closing Friday would be a week ahead of schedule.

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The closing was to be discussed further during today’s briefing.

Officials with the American Red Cross put the Monday count at 48, with nine planning to leave the convention center throughout the day.

“It will be something we will clarify today,” Janice Sawyer, emergency services director with the Vicksburg Area Chapter, said this morning.

Efforts to match families with sponsor groups and individuals accelerated over the weekend, boosting hopes of closing the shelter this week.

“It’s amazing what this little chapter has been able to do,” said Beverly Connelly, executive director of the Vicksburg Area chapter, at Monday’s briefing.

Volunteers there have worked feverishly to distribute family assistance services and assist sponsorship efforts at all four venues that have functioned as shelters since Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Mississippi and Louisiana Gulf Coast August 29.

“In Mississippi, we are holding our head up high in this whole effort,” Connelly said.

Monday was the final day the local chapter distributed checks to those who had been approved for family assistance. Connelly reported orderly conditions at the Jackson Street Community Center for the distribution.

Anyone who has not applied for Red Cross family assistance must now do so via the national hotline at 1-800-975-7585.

To date, the local Red Cross has taken 2,500 applications for family assistance and doled out $2 million in aid.

In other developments: