Northern Nevada will house 300 Katrina victims |

Northern Nevada will house 300 Katrina victims

Becky Bosshart
Appeal Staff Writer

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal Nevada Division of Emergency Management head Frank Siracusa, right, listens as Gov. Kenny Guinn talks at a press conference at the Nevada Air National Guard facility at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport Tuesday afternoon. Northern Nevada is expected to received about 300 evacuees from the Gulf Coast. State officials say they'll be ready today, but are not sure when the evacuees will arrive.

Gulf Coast evacuees will receive yet another shock – culture shock – when they arrive in the Silver State. Shelters in Northern Nevada outfitted from vacant state buildings are ready today to house about 300 evacuees. Another 500 evacuees will fill Las Vegas hotels and other available locations.

State officials don’t know from where exactly the victims will come, or when they will arrive. Gov. Kenny Guinn’s Chief of Staff Mike Hillerby said Tuesday the state could receive as little as a few hours notice before commercial aircraft carrying the victims land at Reno-Tahoe International Airport. The evacuees could be in the Sparks and Stead areas for as long as three months.

About 100 evacuees will be housed at the Nevada State Department of Health and Human Services’ Lakes Crossing mental health facility in Sparks, which has vacant residential housing. The remaining 200 evacuees will be housed at the Army National Guard’s Regional Training Institute in Stead.

The massive humanitarian effort has mobilized every level of state and local government. The health department must bandage wounds and test for illness. The Washoe County School District must place the children in schools. The labor department must help the victims find area jobs, an effort that officials believe is key to restoring hope and income to displaced families.

All the things appreciated by Nevadans may be even more welcoming to Hurricane Katrina victims: Nevada’s dry heat, the considerable absence of water, functioning utilities and miles of open desert.

“There is going to be a lot of shock,” Hillerby said. “They’ve been through a harrowing experience and I can only imagine as a parent not having access to money for anything. I’m sure it’s going to be very traumatic flying to a new place and relying on the hospitality of a new place.”

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Governor Guinn declared Tuesday a limited state of emergency in Nevada as the state increases its aid to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. He asked President Bush to declare a disaster in the state so that aid workers have access to federal resources to assist the victims. The letter was sent to the president Tuesday morning.

“It’s important for individual Nevadans to know that they can help,” Guinn said. “I know our communities will welcome their fellow Americans with open arms and then do what’s necessary to meet their needs. The Red Cross will coordinate donations and we will let everyone know what specific needs arise when we know more about the people coming here.”

While the government extends open arms of welcome, the humanitarian effort is dubbed Operation Open Arms, so are many area residents.

“It’s the Christian thing to do,” said 58-year-old Patricia Sugg about opening her Carson City home to Katrina victims. “I was led to open my home. I have an extra bedroom but not much else. I couldn’t send any money.”

The state legal secretary said her spare bedroom contains a day bed and trundle, which would be perfect for a mother and child or a couple of college-aged girls.

Compelled by gritty news reports on the disaster, Indian Hills couple Chuck and Christine Holland decided to open their spare bedroom and sun porch to survivors.

“We have a room here that people can stay in for up to three months to give people a chance for a new start in life,” said Chuck Holland, a 69-year-old retiree. “It seems like a lot of people down there have lost everything.”

Holland anticipates that once the families come, they may want to stay for awhile in Northern Nevada. He’s even offering one of his spare vehicles for a survivor to use to look for a job until they can afford to buy a car.

Chief of Staff Hillerby said the first round of evacuees will not be put in private homes, but they could be used later if more come in.

“We’re very confident and certain that people are going to open their hearts in a big way,” he said. “We know there will be more food and clothing donated than we probably will need and that’s a great thing. We know how generous people across Nevada are.”

The evacuation effort in the Gulf Coast is headed by Federal Emergency Management Agency and local emergency officials, who will contact Nevada when the victims are on their way.

Hillerby said all donations for the evacuees will be taken through the Northern Nevada chapter of the American Red Cross.

“We imagine that they’re already in shock from the devastation incurred,” said Red Cross spokeswoman Randi Thompson. “We don’t know how long they will be here or whether they will stay here or want to return home.”

She said that within 48 hours after the evacuees arrive, the Red Cross will announce what items are needed for their comfort. One thing she is already asking for – televisions and DVD players, for entertaining the children and keeping the adults up on news. To contact the Red Cross call 856-1000.

n Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at or 881-1212.