Falls Creek waiting for hurricane evacuees

Tuesday, September 6th 2005, 6:10 am
By: News On 6

DAVIS, Okla. (AP) _ A church camp in southern Oklahoma was expecting as many as 3,000 evacuees from the storm-battered Gulf Coast region, but none had arrived there by early Tuesday.

Hundreds of volunteers have been prepared to welcome displaced people at the Falls Creek Baptist Conference Center, a 360-acre camp in the Arbuckle Mountains.

A 6,000-seat outdoor amphitheater has been packed with men's, women's and children's clothes. Hundreds of pairs of shoes have been lined up.

President George Bush approved a federal emergency declaration Monday for Oklahoma. Under the declaration, federal funds will be available to assist with housing, food and emergency protective measures.

Falls Creek will be the second evacuation center in the state for victims of Hurricane Katrina. About 1,500 evacuees arrived late Saturday and early Sunday at Camp Gruber, a National Guard training camp in northeastern Oklahoma 18 miles southeast of Muskogee.

More than 100 of them left after contacting family or friends.

The Most Rev. Edward J. Slattery, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Tulsa, celebrated Mass for about a dozen evacuees Monday morning, and more religious services were planned.

Guests looked up relatives' phone numbers on computers, and about 40 at a time made calls from a phone bank to family and to FEMA to start the process of qualifying for government-backed, low-interest loans.

National Guard Lt. Col. Ron Ragland said officials were working to get the evacuees Oklahoma ID cards.

Superintendents from school districts near Camp Gruber planned to meet to discuss how to get the 900 school-age children at the camp back in school. Classes might be held at Camp Gruber with the help of retired teachers who have volunteered.

Children received immunizations, and pets were given shots at the camp. About 1,000 prescriptions had been filled.

Evacuees have been given fresh clothes and medical attention.

Various state agencies planned to help the evacuees get jobs, food stamps, Medicaid, Social Security and unemployment benefits, medical attention and mental health services.