LBW spends nearly $20K to house evacuees

Published 7:44 pm Thursday, September 18, 2008

Thousands of people fled the coastal areas of Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida to avoid the approaching threat of Hurricane Gustav during Labor Day weekend. Many of those evacuees settled in shelters throughout Alabama, but a good number also utilized a shelter system established through Alabama’s two-year college system.

According to two-year system officials, Alabama’s two-year colleges spent approximately $2.3 million to house and clean up after 6,500 evacuees, over half of the estimated 12,000 evacuees who found shelter throughout the state.

Lurleen B. Wallace Community College reported a total expense of $19,863 due to its operation as a shelter during Labor Day weekend, according to state officials.

Wayne Bennett, LBWCC interim president, said the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provided two pods to be placed at the Andalusia and MacArthur campuses many months prior to Gustav.

“We’ve had a couple of pods provided by FEMA, one to place on each campus, for many months waiting for an emergency,” Bennett said. “We have also had generators installed on each campus that was deemed suitable for evacuees.

“The pods were pretty much self-contained units,” he added. “They contained beds, blankets, pillows and first aid supplies. All of the things you might expect someone who had to leave home in a hurry to need.”

Bennett said that, even though LBWCC was aware that their assistance might be needed, the campuses were not activated as shelters until late Saturday night.

“We got the word at 8 p.m. on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend that we were going to be activated and we had to be up and running early Sunday morning,” Bennett said. “I called around to locate some key people, who in turn called some others. At the Andalusia campus we had a substantial amount of people who showed up 6 a.m. Sunday to move tables, set up cots and establish registration areas. We began to open up some supplies to make sure we had what we thought we had.”

Bennett said 47 people were counted at one time during the three-day period, but it was hard to determine exactly how many evacuees utilized the campus.

“It was a very fluid situation,” he said. “People were here and six hours later it was a different crew. All of the evacuees that came here used their own vehicles. Some stayed a few hours and others a day or two. The whole situation was in flux.”

Bennett said LBWCC employees did not hesitate to assist during the event and did not ask how they were to be compensated for working through the holiday weekend.

“With the group of employees that we have, at both the Andalusia and MacArthur campus, I knew they would make themselves available if they were home,” he said.

According to Bennett, LBWCC’s MacArthur campus was also fully established as a shelter for evacuees with employees manning registration tables 24 hours a day during the three-day period, but no evacuees utilized the facility.

According to figures released by the two-year college system, approximately $1.4 million of the $2.3 million spent to house evacuees was used for wages, including overtime, and $600,000 went to contract cleaning crews after evacuees returned home.

Bennett said LBWCC still has its pods, one of which needs to be refilled with supplies, and will be ready to assist evacuees if needed again in the future.