Hurricane Relief Effort
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
As we heard, relief efforts are already under way. Relief agencies are facing impassable roads, continued flooding and people who've lost everything. NPR's Joanne Silberner has this report on what government and non-governmental organizations are doing to help.
JOANNE SILBERNER reporting:
Michael Chertoff, the head of Homeland Security, says federal and state government workers are rescuing people who are stranded and the relief effort is gearing up.
Secretary MICHAEL CHERTOFF (Department of Homeland Security): We have prestaged large amounts of food, water, ice, other kinds of necessaries. We are now trying to get those into the afflicted areas.
SILBERNER: The Federal Emergency Management Agency has activated 23 disaster medical assistance teams and is coordinating the relief efforts of charitable organizations.
(Soundbite of phone beeping)
Unidentified Woman: Good morning, American Red Cross.
SILBERNER: In Houston, at the Southwest service area for the American Red Cross, Margaret O'Brien-Molina is staging an ever-expanding effort.
Ms. MARGARET O'BRIEN-MOLINA (American Red Cross): As we're trying to get our arms around it, or get an idea of what this is going to be like, we're told, `Prepare yourself for all of last year's hurricanes. Imagine all those hurricanes that hit Florida and roll them all into one and that's what we're going to be doing here.'
SILBERNER: Just today, she's requested 10 more portable kitchens. As of midafternoon, the Red Cross says it's served 64,000 meals and sheltered 40,000 people.
The Salvation Army is also providing assistance. Major George Hood is the Salvation Army's chief communications officer. From his base just outside Washington, DC, he says things didn't look so bad yesterday.
Major GEORGE HOOD (Chief Communications Officer, Salvation Army): Once the storm hit, everybody felt pretty comfortable that homes were OK and could be occupied. When the levee broke this morning, early in the morning, 80 percent of New Orleans is now under water. And so that created havoc with our plans to move in instantly in that area and begin feeding programs because you can't get in to any of the streets in New Orleans right now.
SILBERNER: They had a sleeping and feeding shelter up and running in New Orleans yesterday, but they haven't heard from them today. Communications are proving a huge problem in the whole area.
Maj. HOOD: In Gulfport, Mississippi, and Biloxi, Mississippi, where there is a heavy storm impact, we have yet been able to get any communication connection with anybody in those cities.
SILBERNER: Salvation Army volunteers are getting ready to go in. George Hood says they're not going to have an easy time of it.
Maj. HOOD: This particular storm is so unique that we've already been advised that anyone who comes down needs to make sure they bring lots of insect repellent, mosquito spray and snake kits, because when these waters recede, it's not going to be a very pretty sight at all. And the heat and humidity of Mississippi and Louisiana at the end of the summer is going to make conditions very extreme.
SILBERNER: Long-term relief efforts such as permanent housing will have to wait till the waters recede. The Salvation Army's George Hood says it will be the most massive relief effort ever, trying to help the hundreds of thousands of families who've lost all their furniture, all their clothing, all their material possessions. Joanne Silberner, NPR News.
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