Army in it for the long haul as plans are made to bring continued relief to Gulf region devastated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
by Robert Docter –
The Army’s work in Louisiana and Mississippi may soon include such terms as “rehabilitation” and “resettlement” in its continuing disaster relief efforts as a second phase in the Hurricanes Katrina and Rita recovery process begins.
Commissioner Phil Needham, Southern Territory commander, explored aspects of the Army’s plans with New Frontier. Husbanding carefully the approximately $250 million dollars provided by generous donors on behalf of the bereft and destitute victims of the most destructive disaster to strike this continent, Needham stated that on-going expenditures by the Army for emergency disaster relief total approximately $1.5 million dollars a day. This human support will continue for some time to come.
Jeff Jellets, southern territorial disaster services director, provided information concerning the scope of the Army’s current and ongoing work. He stated: “This disaster is unlike any other––both in terms of size, the vast number of people affected, and the complexity of recovery. In Louisiana and Mississippi, even after more than a month of disaster work, we are still very much in the emergency response phase with the bulk of our activities focused on mass care services. This includes mass feeding, the bulk distribution of goods, and direct, emergency financial aid to disaster survivors (assisting them to purchase essentials, such as food, clothing, medicines, and baby supplies). We still, for example, have more than 80 canteens and two 54-foot kitchens in the states of Louisiana and Mississippi, producing thousands of meals a day, and have just gained full entrance into New Orleans on Thursday,” Jellets said.
Needham identified a beginning focus for a possible next step. This may involve working with the federal departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Under this possible scenario, the Army would initiate possible resettlement efforts by providing a complete array of social services for 6,000 families who will move into empty HUD houses scattered around the south. This service can possibly include readying the facility, the moving process itself, employment and post-traumatic stress counseling and other needs the family might present that fit into the Army’s typical array of social services. HUD has said the selected families will be able to live in the houses for a year and then have the option of purchasing the dwelling.
The selected families will be able to live in the houses for one year and then will have the option of purchasing the house.
The federal agencies have not yet finalized the creation of plans for additional mobile home villages, and the Army’s role in this work is as yet uncertain, according to Needham.
Needham announced that Lt. Colonel Jake Tritton, an officer well known in the West, will assume responsibility as the “Incident Commander” in the Louisiana and southern Mississippi areas. Two command centers will oversee direct services to individuals. Captains Robert and Janene Vincent assume responsibility for southern Mississippi and Mr. Ed Langdon, a retired Canadian judge with a social work background now residing in the South, will direct the work in Louisiana. Tritton will work closely with Jellets, who made it clear that if and when “we engage in new areas (or non-traditional areas) of service then we may need to look toward other sources to provide the funding for those new programs.”
Having gained access for the first time to New Orleans late last week, the Army discovered that almost all of the its buildings sustained serious damage except one thrift store, located directly across from the Adult Rehabilitation Center. The store had been constructed on “high ground” – approximately six feet above sea level, and was spared major damage. It now becomes the central point for coordination and service in the city.
Needham made it clear that the Army will continue its service to the hurricane victims over “the long haul,” and that as additional human needs develop the Army will seek to find ways to meet the challenge.