Plans to house evacuees are on hold
STEAD – Except for the roar of classic planes practicing for the Reno Air Races over the airport landing strip, it was quiet at the Stead Training Facility north of Reno.
The 100 brown and yellow vinyl chairs set up in front of a Nevada National Guard tent Monday morning were empty. It’s time to take down the banners made by local children and box up the donations of toiletries.
Northern Nevada will not receive 300 Hurricane Katrina evacuees from the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the near future, according to the governor’s office.
The training site, which could have sheltered about 200 evacuees, is on the old Stead Air Force Base. Closed by BRAC orders in 1964, now it’s the Stead Airport.
FEMA e-mailed the State of Nevada Department of Emergency Management early Monday morning, saying all evacuation efforts in New Orleans were suspended. The federal agency asked states to provide assessments for long-term housing availability, but it has not asked Nevada to provide any homes at this time.
“Given how tight the housing market is in the state, I don’t know if there will be much out there,” said Gov. Kenny Guinn’s chief of staff, Mike Hillerby. “They have not told us it’s necessary. We’re taking it seriously, but they haven’t asked for it.”
If Gulf Coast survivors had come, they would have experienced quite a shock.
“This is like coming to the far side of the moon for them,” said Nevada National Guard Lt. Col. Warren Andersen. “What with our weather, the lack of vegetation.”
Although disappointed, Andersen said it was a training opportunity for the Guard. Two guardsmen, unaware of the change in plans, were still setting up the public address system and testing it by grandiosely welcoming the people of Louisiana to Reno.
“As things change in the battle zone, it’s the same here,” he said. “We’re just prepared the best way we can be with what we have.”
April Conway, Nevada National Guard spokeswoman, said many agencies came together to transform the training site into a comfortable shelter. During a tour, she pointed to seven phones inside the recreation building installed by SBC. Charter Communications donated high-speed Internet for four computers.
Although the barracks weren’t much to look at – bunk beds in straight rows each outfitted with two gray wool blankets, a pillow and a thin, olive-green towel – Conway said the Guard did the best it could in a short time. Some rooms have mini refrigerators, coffee makers and Panasonic TVs.
Evacuees also could have been housed at the Dini/Townsend building at the Nevada Mental Health Hospital campus in Sparks.
She said evacuees would have received a packet with “vital information” on the Reno area, such as maps and free bus passes from the Regional Transportation Commission. Just a few miles down Stead Boulevard is an industrial center with more than one banner announcing job openings.
“Nevadans have always come to the aid of their fellow Americans, and this time was no exception,” Guinn said Monday. “Citizens from around the state, the Red Cross, the Salvation Army and the many government employees who went above and beyond the call of duty are to be commended for the heartfelt assistance.”
Officials estimate about 1,200 evacuees have already arrived in Las Vegas to stay with family and friends. Thirty families, about 100 people, have traveled to Reno on their own and registered with the American Red Cross for assistance.
“Most of these hurricane evacuees have family in the area and either drove or flew here with the help of their Reno relatives,” said Caroline Punches, executive director of the Northern Nevada Chapter of the Red Cross.
Eight more families arrived Monday, said Red Cross spokeswoman Randi Thompson.
“We still need 40,000 volunteers nationwide to work in shelters all across the country, so don’t give up hope yet,” she said.