First shelter opens here; two more expected|[9/23/05]

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 23, 2005

Hurricane Rita evacuees began filling up the first Vicksburg shelter opened this morning, and two more shelters were expected to be opened – and full – by nightfall.

“I’ve spoken to two hotels and the visitor’s center. About six to eight families are being sent over now,” Red Cross emergency services director Janice Sawyer said this morning of Calvary Baptist Church at 2878 Old Highway 27. Two other shelters – Hawkins United Methodist Church at 3736 Halls Ferry Road and Church of Christ at 3333 N. Frontage Road – were to open later today as the need arose.

Each would take in evacuees until near capacity, then the next would open, Sawyer said.

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Fourteen volunteers from American Red Cross headquarters established in Montgomery, Ala., were already in Vicksburg this morning, ready to assist local chapter in organizing the shelters.

They arrived Thursday when local Red Cross officials were put on standby to open shelters in anticipation of another influx of hurricane evacuees from the Gulf South.

“That’s the beauty of having fresh people. We are in our Hurricane Rita stage,” Sawyer said.

The area chapter remained in contact with federal and state emergency headquarters in Jackson for further advising.

Rita remained a powerful Category 4 hurricane poised for landfall along the upper Texas coast and southwest Louisiana early Saturday.

Meanwhile, the last 20 evacuees of Hurricane Katrina still housed at the Vicksburg Convention Center feverishly worked contacts trying to find housing and transportation.

“Right now, we’re finding places for them to go. Some have tried to find a ‘better’ place,” said Steve Duncan, pastor of Living Word Baptist Church. The church had worked to determine evacuee needs and help relocate them.

Evacuees must be out of the convention center today by the 6 p.m. closing time. City and convention center officials did not plan to open the convention center as a shelter for evacuees of Hurricane Rita.

If any evacuees remain without housing, they would be allowed to go to a shelter opened today.

During a short briefing of government and volunteer entities at the Joint Command Center at the convention center, South Ward Alderman Sid Beaumann urged Red Cross and other volunteer officials to heighten communication in the next 48 hours as Rita approaches landfall.

“Make your decisions wisely the first time. We’ve learned a lot in the last three weeks,” Beaumann said.

In other developments: