City Council Presents Hurricane Evacuation Plan

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BY Yamiche Alcindor

Paul Heart checks the water level on the ground every time it rains. A lifelong resident of New Orleans, he is scared floodwaters like those of Hurricane Katrina will drown his beloved city again. If another hurricane approaches, he is leaving, never mind the deplorable conditions he and others experienced in evacuation shelters during hurricanes Gustav and Ike.

“Shreveport was bad,” said Ali Shabazz, a New Orleans resident. “They weren’t ready for us. We have been to the Katrina hell in the dome, and we’ve been to the hell outside of shelters.”

At a New Orleans City Council meeting Tuesday, officials unveiled a plan designed to get residents out of harm’s way and into better shelters. Representatives from emergency services  offices outlined a comprehensive hurricane evacuation proposal, the City Assisted Evacuation Plan.

Councilman Arnie Fielkow and Councilwoman Cynthia Willard-Lewis conducted the meeting with Kristy Nicholas, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Social Services; Jerry Sneed, director of the city’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness; and Kernels Cliff Oliver and Patrick Santos, coastguards.

The meeting was a collective effort by officials to get residents’ input for this year’s hurricane plans. Residents such as Shabazz complained that last year shelters lacked adequate food, space and security.

“The state has a lesson learned from Gustav,” Sneed said. “We have pulled together as a city to make sure problems are addressed.”

At the meeting, officials introduced a new system that will allow residents to register for evacuation and financial assistance online. Officials also released several concrete details, including Mayor Ray Nagin’s plan to call a mandatory city evacuation 60 hours before any category three or higher hurricane. According to the city, it is ready to shuttle more than 29,000 people to various states including Texas and Georgia.

Seventeen bus pick-up points will be set up in and around New Orleans to help residents leave the city, Sneed said.  The city also announced that it will use school buses as back-up transportation if chartered buses don’t arrive in time.

Sneed said that residents who need special assistance leaving the city should register with the city. Those who registered for special help last year remain in the system.

Oliver outlined how residents in need would receive Emergency Disaster Food Stamps. Applications for the stamps will be available online at the Louisiana Department of Social Services’ Web site, dss.state.la.us.

The city also introduced a new way for residents to trace their loved ones. Before boarding buses, people will fill out registration forms ensuring that a paper trail of individual destinations exists. “We want to make sure it goes orderly,” Oliver said.

In response to horror stories of last year’s shelter conditions, Joshua Gill, a director from the department of social services, said residents will be guaranteed specific conditions such as: 30 feet of sleeping space, three meals a day and resources to communicate with their families.

Kernel Oliver said a five-year shelter improvement plan is also in the works to ensure the efficient use of existing shelters, the creation of new shelters and the renovation of existing facilities.

“We want to make sure people can have the comfortable and sanitary conditions that they deserved,”  Willard-Lewis said.


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