Hurricane relief plan solidifying |

Hurricane relief plan solidifying

J.K. Perry
Preston Utley/Vail DailyBarry Smith, emergency managment coordinator for Eagle County, talks about what locals can do for victims of Hurricane Katrina Thursday in Vail.

VAIL – Eagle County continues to prepare housing, medical services and explore job opportunities for Hurricane Katrina evacuees who may relocate to the mountains. Citizens, activists and leaders dedicated to local and national efforts to support people ravaged by Hurricane Katrina were pleased with progress made at coordinating community relief at a meeting on Thursday.”The thing we set out to do is inform the people what to do and who to contact. I think we got that out,” said Mark Cervantes. He co-organized the Vail Holiday Inn meeting that included county officials, relief activists and citizens and others.County officials shared with more than 50 attendees the progress they had made since a Tuesday meeting to coordinate local relief. Cervantes said the officials were “the people we need to be looking to for answers.”About 15 people in the crowd stood up and explained projects they were working on to garner support and direction for other attendees and leaders. Many who spoke found the meeting was an opportunity to express their need to help.”Where do you put this energy” Stuart Bucy said. “I didn’t know how to fuel” the need to help.

Officials and citizens stressed the need to keep what Cervantes called a local “pot” of money to support evacuees who may come to the valley. Many in the crowd expressed interest in donating to the valley chapter of the Salvation Army after they learned the organization uses donations locally before sending money elsewhere.The county has created a clearinghouse of contacts, links and other information at county progress report included a spike in available housing for evacuees. KT Gazunis, director for the county Housing Department, said 36 valley housing units averaging two to three bedrooms apiece are open. The number is up from three on Tuesday.Federal subsidies will pay for housing up to 18 months, Gazunis said. Housing will be available after job fairs are held for evacuees at Lowry Air Force Base on the Front Range. About 325 hurricane survivors were living on the defunct base as of Thursday, the Associated Press reported. More than 650 survivors have taken refuge in Colorado, and at least 500 more were expected.Vail Valley Medical Center will provide medical assistance and communicable disease screening to evacuees brought to the valley, said Jill Hunsaker, county health manager.

Gazunis said an option for housing is to select “breadwinners,” who can send money to their families in the gulf region.John Power, Vail director of human resources, said he has been in contact with valley businesses representatives to identify potential jobs. Employers need to be patient as evacuee information is gathered into a computer database at Lowry, he said. The information should help employers find capable workers.”In order to be most effective we need to get some data together,” said Power, who estimated it could be three to four weeks until a job fair is held at the base.Opportunities for individuals to assist in the gulf region are becoming available through the county. Without an established organization to sponsor aid workers, individuals going to the south can become a problem, officials have said.The county can provide those traveling to the gulf region with immunizations, Hunsaker said.An important task is to keep the urge to help alive as coverage falls out of the news, officials said.

“The next three to 45 days is critical,” said Don Cohen, executive director of the Vail Economic Council. “Keeping the focus for the next year to two years is really important.”Officials have considered adopting a county in Mississippi described by County Commissioner Tom Stone as the “Vail Valley of the south.”When donating money, residents are urged to choose charities wisely. Fraudulent Web sites have been popping up, the AP reported. offers information to steer clear of fraudulent charities.Staff Writer J.K. Perry can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 450, or Vail, Colorado

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