LAFAYETTE, La., Sept. 7 -- Owing to stealthy acts of hospitality that are largely invisible to government, aid agencies and the news media, hundreds of thousands of people displaced by Hurricane Katrina seem to be disappearing -- into the embrace of their extended families.
It is hard to see and harder to quantify, but kinfolk from Louisiana -- a state that has the most sedentary family structure in the country, with 79 percent of its current residents born here -- are quietly sponging up the bulk of the people whose homes have been destroyed in and around New Orleans, according to Red Cross officials, local politicians and longtime students of Louisiana hurricanes...
Ellis, who lives in Indiana and has worked with the Red Cross after four hurricanes in Florida, said the willingness of people in Louisiana to provide housing, food and clothing to large numbers of relatives and family friends is unique in her experience...
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Red Cross and the Salvation Army all said they have no precise numbers on how many people displaced by the hurricane are staying with family or friends or in hotels. The numbers are more precise for those in shelters -- 182,000 people, said Butch Kinerney, a spokesman for FEMA.
But estimates of the total number of evacuees in the Gulf Coast states are dramatically higher than that.
Louisiana officials have said there were more than 1 million evacuees from that state alone, and Mississippi officials have said the total number of people displaced there could be several hundred thousand.
"Without families, we would have a major, major disaster in this part of Louisiana," said Walter Guillory, director of the Lafayette Housing Authority.
"It has been more than seven days, and FEMA is just getting ready to put an office in Lafayette," said Gerald Breaux, director of the Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission. "If the families and the community didn't step up, we would still be waiting."
It is all very, very hard. Family is important here and people will help out for as long as they can... FEMA will be making a very large mistake if it chooses to, as Red Cross officials are telling me, gather all the people without resources into mass shelters in order to receive assitance. There is nothing to say but that that is stupid in the extreme and will only slow the victims integration into our community. Give them money where they are. I can say from first hand experience that FEMA's culture prefers control over service. That must change. It killed people in New Orleans and they need to get over it. Picture IDs should NOT have been FEMA's first act when they finally got around to us.
(I had volunteers waiting for 3 and half hours to get a silly picture card in order to get to a 3 hour shift at the Dome Compter Center. FEMA should have known better and local Red Cross folks should have defied the Feds and waved through the volunteers who had been working for a week at the shelter without the need for clearly unnecessary security--if that level of security had ever been neccessary the moment for it was over. Our organization made sure the registration process got two more computers. That was necessary to facilitate the work. But we shouldn't have had to waste any resources on it. And neither should the Red Cross. Nor, most especially should the dome residents who have been nothing but helpful and cooperative.)