by Mike Kroll
The devastation along the Gulf coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has united this country in a manner that parallels the reaction to the September 11th attack. And that feeling has carried overseas to many other countries as well. As private, non-profit and government agencies stepped up to offer assistance to the victims of the hurricane Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was near the forefront as he promised to offer assistance to 10,000 “hurricane survivors.” Locally a meeting was held Wednesday to help assess how much the Galesburg area could contribute to this humanitarian and relief effort.
Approximately 30 local officials and leaders of area groups and agencies gathered in the downtown office of the Red Cross to discuss the areas capacity to help. Leading the discussion was the trio of Sal Garza, Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity; Lynn Tyler, executive director of the local Red Cross; and Galesburg Mayor Gary Smith. Seated at tables arranged in a large square the diverse group tackled a wide variety of issues related to just what the local area can offer to help hurricane victims.
“I think the Galesburg area can handle about 400 hurricane survivors,” estimated Garza. “This is a preliminary estimate of our capability but through conversations such as this I hope to determine more accurately not only the number of victims we can assist but also the nature or types of victims we are best equipped to aid. I feel very positive about the local response plan that we will develop and I know that local citizens will be generous of both time and other resources. We need to strike a balance between continuing to meet existing local needs and affording assistance to the hurricane survivors. Personally I believe that the effectiveness and efficiency of any relief effort is guided by the extent to which local people are engaged in the process. That is why meeting such as this are so critical.”
Tyler pointed out that seven hurricane survivors have already reached the Galesburg area and are currently being assisted by the Red Cross. “All of those that have already arrived had some kind of local connection. The victims either had family or friends they knew in this area that caused them to come to Galesburg. In some cases these friends or family members actually went down to the Gulf coast to bring the survivors back. In other cases they drove here in their own vehicles. At this point what is being discussed is how we can serve victims who otherwise have no personal resources in this area and who are likely to be brought here as part of the government effort to relocate them until damage is repaired, public services are restored and housing is once again available.”
According to figures discussed at the meeting approximately 540 hurricane survivors have already arrived in Chicago, Rockford and other larger Illinois cities. The Knox County Nursing Home has promised to make 50 beds available for victims requiring special medical assistance outside of a hospital and the Knox County Housing Authority is determining how many units it can make available on short notice. Don Tomlinson, director of KCHA said that while his units all come with basic appliances these families would need furniture and other basic household goods and supplies his agency doesn't typically provide.
“The TV has done a very good job of helping those of us removed from the scene to put the devastation of the hurricane into perspective and helping us focus on the plight of the thousands upon thousands of hurricane victims,” said State Representative Don Moffitt. “I am confident the both the state and our local people will deliver aid and compassion as needed. I think the governor has made it clear that Illinois is committed to this endeavor and I am sure resources will be made available to assist local community efforts.”
Mayor Smith made clear that he views the overwhelming local response as a measure of this community. “This could be viewed as a trial run of sorts. Just how would we respond to a local emergency like this? We can not only assist people who need it but also learn how to better respond to local emergencies.”
The group agreed to meet again on Friday morning at 9am in the school district office at Allen Park School on South Farnham Street. The Red Cross will take the point position in coordinating the local response and helping direct offers of assistance in whatever form. To volunteer, contribute or seek additional information please call the Red Cross at 344-1611.