Ready to respond for Hurricanes

TUPELO – Dwindling resources won’t prevent Northeast Mississippi relief agencies from responding to another coastal disaster like Katrina, but it will certainly make it more difficult.
“We are in a bind right now even without hurricanes,” said Susan Gilbert, director of social services for the Salvation Army in Tupelo, which serves the counties of Lee, Union Prentiss and part of Monroe.
“We’re begging for food, we have no food left hardly in our pantries, it’s hurting,” Gilbert said. “I would hate to see what would happen if there’s a hurricane; the people will be served, but the funds to get reimbursement, I don’t know.”
Charities across Northeast Mississippi have suffered decreasing donations – both monetary and otherwise – since the economy turned sour. And with hurricane season in full swing, many worry a major storm could wipe them out.
“Right now at this point, we’re just going from day to day and doing the best we can to provide services and hope for the best,” said Patty Tucker, executive director of the American Red Cross of Northeast Mississippi.
The Red Cross and Salvation Army were among the first area agencies to respond to the 2005 hurricane by sending volunteers to the coast, collecting food and clothing, and opening shelters for evacuees. Hundreds, if not thousands, of coastal residents sought refuge in Northeast Mississippi in the days that followed the Aug. 29, 2005 storm.
If such a disaster were to strike again, Tucker said she’d rely on what she calls “episodic donors” who pour money into relief agencies during emergencies but aren’t otherwise regular givers.
Nationwide, the Red Cross has raised more than $90 million of a $100 million campaign. This prompted its spokeswoman, Laura Howe, to remark that “we’re in a really good place to provide strong and consistent disaster response this year.”
The north Atlantic hurricane season started June 1 and lasts until the end of November.
Even without another Katrina, area relief agencies provide aid after other tragedies like tornados, fires and floods. And officials say they could use extra help.
“We’re being told that normally when the economy gets bad, we’re on people’s minds and they give more,” Gilbert said. “But we’re not seeing that so far.”
The Salvation Army’s national spokesman, Maj. George Hood, said the organization will close two offices along the hurricane-prone coast: one in Hancock County and one in Metairie, La. Both were Katrina recovery centers.
And though it will continue to provide food, water and shelter in an emergency, it’s unlikely to offer more costly recovery aid like the $10,000 grants given to Katrina victims for home repairs, Hood said.
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com. The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal