Relief Efforts Continue
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MARGARET WARNER: And we turn now to representatives of two private groups involved in the massive work of assisting victims of the hurricane. Salvation Army Commissioner Todd Bassett, who’s currently national commander of the organization; he’ll travel to the affected areas tomorrow with President Bush. And John Spain, executive vice president of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation. Baton Rouge, capital of Louisiana, sits on the Mississippi river 75 miles northwest of New Orleans.
First of all, Commissioner Bassett, I know the Salvation Army already has several offices in New Orleans. What are you able to do on the ground there right now?
TODD BASSETT: Well, the Salvation Army on the ground in New Orleans is almost at a loss because of the evacuation that was to take place, and of course the city was responsible for those who were taken to the Superdome.
But the Salvation Army, at one of our centers, the Center of Hope, the Salvation Army officer gathered around him 250 people that were the poorest of the poor, the marginalized, and many of them were infirm, and believing that they could wait out the storm, cared for them.
And up until about three hours ago, they were down to their last meal, and the leadership there in Jackson, Mississippi, was able to commandeer some way these win boats, and to the best of my knowledge, they have begun the evacuation process now of those 250 people.
MARGARET WARNER: So they were still trapped by water.
TODD BASSETT: They were trapped by water.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, John Spain, in Baton Rouge you’re getting floods and floods of these refugees. How many– I heard a figure of 40,000– and where are you putting them?
JOHN SPAIN: They’re 40,000-plus, now, Margaret, being put in public shelters, convention centers, schools, around the state, around the area. Ironically, Baton Rouge was the second largest city in the state until yesterday. We’re now the largest city in the state. With people leaving New Orleans every day the estimates are literally hundreds of thousands of people from south Louisiana will have to find temporary housing.
It is truly a disaster that no one could plan for it, and it is overwhelming. Many our communities’ resources and our ability to deal with it, and it will continue, by most estimates, for months, if not years.
MARGARET WARNER: And are you able to get to them, the food, at least the food and the water and cots, whatever basics they need?
JOHN SPAIN: To a large except the American Red Cross has done that. What you have to understand, Margaret, we’re 80 miles north of New Orleans. We are the first place most of these people come when they leave New Orleans.
On the LSU Campus, there’s a triage center where people who have medical injuries, people who are coming from hospitals are triaged there, and then they’re sent into shelters. So people are being processed in Baton Rouge, and then trying to determine, where do we send them?
The truth is, at this hour, most of those shelters are at capacity, and there is a crisis in terms of where that next wave of people will go.
MARGARET WARNER: Now what else, Commissioner Bassett, is the Salvation Army able to do in the area as a whole, in other words, right outside New Orleans?
TODD BASSETT: Well, right outside and beyond New Orleans, the Salvation Army in many centers is housing people as well as feeding somewhere in the neighborhood of 150,000 people every day. We’ve opened up our summer camps in Georgia and in Florida and in Texas. And we’ve taken families and people in to those locations. We are sheltering and feeding people in our facilities, in the northern part of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, as you do this, are you basically on your own, are, in other words, are you experiencing the lack of coordination that several of the previous guests on this program spoke about?
TODD BASSETT: Well, there’s no question that, I would like to suggest that it really is the lack of communication that is because of the breakdown of the infrastructure — how do you get to those people when your telephones are gone and your electricity is gone, so that– and the widespread nature of the event is such that coordination has become a real boondoggle.
MARGARET WARNER: And, Mr. Spain, what do you most need now in Baton Rouge to help you cope with this?
JOHN SPAIN: Our plans — we’ve actually created two funds. One is an immediate fund where people around the nation can donate to provide the necessary needs for people who are here now.
The second fund recognizes that at some point these individuals will have to go back to New Orleans and have to rebuild their lives, and we want to set money aside for that time when they’ll need those essentials.
We have to look at every aspect of people’s lives. When you talk about this, it’s hard to imagine, people came here thinking they’d be home in 48 hours. They have no clothes. They have no medicine. In some cases they brought their pets. They have no dog food. They have children that are going to have to, next week, enroll in our local schools.
They don’t know where those schools are. They have no books. They have no notebooks. Anything that they need to live they, in most part, do not have. These people really are out of money. We’ve heard story where’s people actually could not drive their car because they had no money to buy gasoline. And so it runs the gamut.
But when you think about it, these are people who have lost everything, in some cases don’t have anything to go home to, don’t know where their next home will be, don’t know how long they’ll be in these shelters. So our goal is to raise money, which we will…
MARGARET WARNER: Go ahead.
JOHN SPAIN: …which we will distribute to 300 nonprofits in our area that can on the ground locally provide the services, and that will be everything from clothing to medicine to providing mental health care, to providing school books.
All of those needs have to be addressed, and as a local community foundation, we have the ability to tie into those local services that are available here that will provide services not only in the short-term but in the long-term because as a community, Baton Rouge has to recognize many of these people, perhaps hundreds of thousands of these people will be here for the long run, and we’ve got to find a way of bringing them into our community and taking care of them. And that’s going to be very, very expensive.
MARGARET WARNER: And Commissioner Bassett, what do you think the needs are, the greatest needs in terms of the Salvation Army being able to do what it wants to do and needs to do?
TODD BASSETT: Well, along with the foundation that we’ve just spoken of, the Salvation Army is going to have to have the financial resources in order to do the very kind of thing that’s just been spoken of, as well as immediately take care of feeding and caring for people as they come to us.
MARGARET WARNER: So what you’re saying is, basically what you need most is cash.
TODD BASSETT: Immediately. It’s cash that’s going to drive what’s happening in the next two weeks.
MARGARET WARNER: Commissioner Todd Bassett and John Spain, thank you, both.
TODD BASSETT: Pleasure, thank you.
JOHN SPAIN: Thank you.