LANSING (AP) — Gov. Jennifer Granholm met with Hurricane Katrina victims yesterday at Fort Custer Training Center near Battle Creek as the center readied for the possible arrival of hundreds more evacuees.
“Many of them had not had a shower for eight days. They wanted to wash their hair, they wanted to sleep,” Granholm said of the first refugees to come off jet planes Monday. “Many of them went right to the telephones” to try to connect with loved ones they left behind.
Those escaping Katrina’s aftermath will spend three to five days at the Army training center before being moved into more permanent housing in communities across the state.
Although the governor said several children arrived without adult relatives, Fort Custer spokesman Capt. Aaron Jenkins said all 25 of the children who arrived Monday were with at least one parent.
Many of those who got off the planes Monday had been plucked from rooftops in flooded New Orleans and arrived “with just a Rite-Aid bag with all of their worldly possessions,” the governor told reporters yesterday during a news conference. She added that many had no idea they were headed to Michigan when they boarded the planes.
“When they got off, we had to give them Michigan maps — some of them very surprised that they were so far away” from their homes, she said.
Sir Anthony Brooks, a 19-year-old singer and drummer, saw dead bodies floating in New Orleans’s flooded streets before he left the devastated city. He said he was extremely impressed with Granholm coming to speak to the evacuees and the treatment he’d gotten at Fort Custer.
“I’m so thankful for all this,” he said of the food, water, showers and other basics the refugees were offered after they’d arrived. “I’m going to stay here (in Michigan). I’m going to go to school (college) and do the right thing.”
Despite being 1,000 miles from her New Orleans home, Claudette Brooks said settling anywhere would be fine with her as long as she’s with her children. She doesn’t know where her 9-, 12- and 19-year-old children are at the moment, although she has heard they’re safe with other relatives.
“They’re constantly on my mind,” said Brooks, 38. “I’m always dreaming of them. But when I wake up, they’re not there.”
All of those on Monday’s planes were screened by medical workers for infectious diseases and chronic diseases, said state Community Health director Janet Olszewski. Some had to be hospitalized, but it was for chronic disease, not anything related to the hurricane, she said. Most of the other health problems were wounds that didn’t need major care.
With so few children arriving from the stricken area so far, Granholm said she doesn’t know how many displaced students may need to enroll in Michigan schools. She also doesn’t know yet how many refugees the Federal Emergency Management Agency will send.
She’s working with mayors and county governments to find places for people to stay for up to nine months and with faith-based and community groups to connect the refugees with people who can support them as they get used to living in a new place.
The governor said she is taking FEMA at its word that it will reimburse the state dollar-for-dollar for any bills relating to education, medical care, housing, food stamps and other needs.
Camp Grayling in the northern Lower Peninsula also may be a destination for refugees, since it can take as many as 7,000 people for a short time until they are moved to more permanent housing, Granholm said. But much of Camp Grayling’s housing isn’t heated, so it will be used only until the weather turns cold.
Noting that the evacuees are from the much-warmer South, the governor said that “we want to make sure they experience Michigan winter in the gentlest way,” not shivering in unheated housing.
The governor continued to urge people who want to donate goods or volunteer their skills or homes to the disaster effort to contact the state hot line. She again urged people not to head down on their own or send goods down on their own. She said FEMA is letting state officials know what it needs and will not reimburse the state for services or goods it hasn’t requested.