Relief Efforts Try to Assuage Storm Damage

Robert Siegel talks to Major Dalton Cunningham, commander for the Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi Division of the Salvation Army, about ways to donate to help victims of Katrina. Help has come from near and far: Jill Kandrus of Idaho Falls, Idaho, offered her basement on the Internet for people who need a place to stay because their homes are under water.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

The big relief organizations sprang into action immediately to help out the victims of this hurricane and flood along the Gulf Coast. The Red Cross says that it is housing nearly 46,000 evacuees in more than 230 shelters, and providing that shelter, of course, costs money.

(Soundbite of American Red Cross advertisement)

Unidentified Man: This is an American Red Cross action alert. Victims of the recent hurricane need help immediately. The Red Cross is on the scene with emergency shelter, food and counseling. Your help is urgently needed.

SIEGEL: Major Dalton Cunningham of the Salvation Army is the commander for the Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi division. He's in Biloxi. And he says his group is just one of many working in the area that's in need of donations.

Major DALTON CUNNINGHAM (Salvation Army): I think we're dealing with the impact. I do know that FEMA and a lot of the Federal Emergency Management Agencies are working hard. So I think the imminent need is on the front burner for every agency at this point.

SIEGEL: And for people who are wondering what they might do, what they might contribute to be of some assistance now, either to the Salvation Army or to other relief agencies, what seems most sensible to you?

Maj. CUNNINGHAM: Well, the best thing to do now is just, frankly, to send money. We need that desperately. Thank God Wal-Mart yesterday announced they were giving us a million dollars, and that's the way we can use the most effective help at this point.

SIEGEL: That's Major Dalton Cunningham of the Salvation Army.

In addition to his organization, many other organizations are collecting money to help in the relief effort. The United Way, Catholic Charities USA and America's Second Harvest have all set up special programs to collect help for victims of Hurricane Katrina.

And the Internet has emerged as a place where all kinds of relief is being offered and accepted. Craigslist, which posts local classified-type ads for cities around the world, says it has had a 300 percent spike in activity on its New Orleans site since the storm. One of those postings was from Jill Andrus of Idaho Falls, Idaho.

Ms. JILL ANDRUS (Idaho Falls, Idaho): First of all, my husband told me this morning--he said, `You know, let's just get in our car and drive down there and try to find a family who needs a place to stay for a few months and bring them back home with us.' And so I thought, `Well, maybe before we get too crazy, we'll go onto craigslist and see if there's a place that we can post'--someplace that we can share with people that we have a home and our friends have homes; that we will open up to people on a temporary basis for them to come and bring their families as a place of refuge. We'll help them with food. We have an extra car. We'll enroll them in school here. And I assume, you know, it will take several months for people to get their homes up and running and get the insurance companies down there fixing homes, and they're going to need to put their kids in school and a place to hang their hat.

SIEGEL: How long are you prepared to keep a refugee family from New Orleans in your home?

Ms. ANDRUS: Well, we've talked about that this morning. As long as it takes, you know. I--if I was in their situation, I would want someone to help me.

SIEGEL: Have you gotten any responses yet to the posting?

Ms. ANDRUS: No, I haven't, and I assume it's probably because the people that need the help...

SIEGEL: Nobody has power to look at the...

Ms. ANDRUS: ...don't have the Internet.

SIEGEL: Yeah, yeah, although there are people that have left New Orleans, you know, obviously. But you think some of your neighbors are considering a...

Ms. ANDRUS: Oh, yeah.

SIEGEL: ...similar offer? Yeah?

Ms. ANDRUS: Oh, definitely.

SIEGEL: There could be a whole migration from New Orleans up to Idaho Falls.

Ms. ANDRUS: Well, that's what we're hoping. We thought, you know, `Hey, if we could get several families together that were friends or just extended families, we could get a bus and pay for a bus to pick them up and bus them up here.' And then they could be here in the same community together as family and friends staying in homes here and enroll their kids in the same school. And that way they could feel--you know, bring a little bit of home...

SIEGEL: And maybe have a very small carnival around Mardi Gras...

Ms. ANDRUS: There you go.

SIEGEL: ...time in the spring in Idaho Falls. Well, thank you very much for talking with us...

Ms. ANDRUS: Yeah.

SIEGEL: ...about the offer you've extended. Jill andrus up in Idaho Falls, Idaho, thanks a lot.

Ms. ANDRUS: Thanks, Robert.

SIEGEL: People are also using the New Orleans page at craigslist to make passionate appeals to find lost friends and relatives. The subject headings in the `lost and found' are full of pleas like these: `Help Jose Cruz,' `Looking for friend Patrick Roberts(ph),' `Looking for Vern Baxter and family.' And there are a few posts with happier messages, such as this one: `Ellis Anderson of Bay Saint Louis is OK.'

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