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Texas begins airlift of evacuees to other states

By J. Lyn Carl,

Austin, TX –

The tarmac at Preston Smith International Airport in Lubbock was lined with dozens of Texas Department of Public Safety troopers and emergency medical personnel, with ambulances nearby as the first wave of what could be up to 1,000 Hurricane Katrina victims were flown into Lubbock in far West Texas today. The tarmac was to serve as a triage area for those needing medical attention before the evacuees were moved by ambulance or bus to medical facilities and/or shelters.

As those evacuees were arriving, Gov. Rick Perry directed Texas emergency management officials, under the direction of the Governor's Division of Emergency Management, to begin initiating measures to airlift some Hurricane Katrina victims in Texas to other states.

The governor has previously notified Louisiana and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials that Texas is near capacity for taking in evacuees, with nearly 250,000 being housed in hotels and motels, arenas, shelters and private homes from Beaumont to Lufkin and Houston to San Antonio to Dallas.

"As Texas provides food, shelter and medicine to more than 230,000 evacuees, we are concerned about our capacity to meet this great human need as thousands more arrive by the day," Perry said. "We want to make certain every evacuee has a safe haven where they can receive medical care, water, food and other assistance.

"We have initiated this airlift plan with the evacuees' best interests foremost in our hearts and minds," said the governor. "There are shelters set up in other states that are sitting empty while thousands arrive in Texas by the day, if not the hour. We are doing everything we can to address the needs of evacuees as they arrive, but in order to meet this enormous need, we need help from other states."

Texas officials have been in contact with officials from other states, including Michigan, Utah, West Virginia, Iowa, New York and Pennsylvania, to see if they have shelter space available. Sunday preparations were under way to airlift Hurricane Katrina evacuees to some of those states. The governor also began contacting additional states to see if they can assist.

Perry said other states have offered to provide relief and with Texas nearing its capacity for taking evacuees, "We have begun contacting those states to take them up on their kind offer to provide additional support."

Texas is currently setting up two airlift operations in Houston and Dallas. Aid centers will be established at airports in those cities, where evacuees will be provided water, food and medical assistance before traveling to other states. The Texas National Guard will coordinate the air operation and the Texas Department of Public Safety will provide support services.

West Virginia has made three C-130 planes available to send to Texas for evacuees to be sheltered in that state. Cruise ships also will be enlisted and brought to Galveston to house homeless residents from Louisiana. The governor has recommended to FEMA that additional cruise ships be stationed in ports in Beaumont and Corpus Christi.

Also assisting in the relocation of evacuees will be the three major airlines headquartered in Texas - American, Continental and Southwest Airlines. Evacuees arriving in Lubbock were flown in by American Airlines. Some evacuees in the state in shelters that are overcrowded may also be moved to other Texas cities willing to shelter them. Estimates today are that more than 100,000 Louisiana residents are staying in hotels and motels throughout Texas and another 139,000 are being temporarily housed in 137 shelters throughout the state - including the Astrodome, Reliant Center and George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston; Reunion Arena in Dallas; and Kelly USA in San Antonio - the major shelters established to take in those evacuated from New Orleans. Other smaller cities and communities are taking in evacuees as well, as are shelters created by faith groups and private organizations.

Perry had high praise for the thousands of Texans who have responded to the call for help to assist the evacuees. "We have thousands of volunteers attending to the most basic needs of our neighbors in an outpouring of compassion that makes me proud to be a Texan. The response of city and county leaders, first responders and medical personnel, and houses of worship and private citizens has been heart-warming and critical to saving lives."

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