Early last week, Hurricane Katrina looked like just another big storm.
All hurricanes are serious, and Katrina caused nine deaths in Florida, but early in the day Aug. 26 it was a relatively mild category 2 storm, and the 11th named hurricane of the season.
But Katrina quickly gained strength and barreled down hard on New Orleans and southern Mississippi, destroying towns and flooding much of the nation’s 35th largest city.
Along with the rest of the nation, Montgomery County watched in horror as thousands evacuated, and thousands more remained stranded, desperate for housing, food and clean water.
Before the horror subsided, the County began to react. It sent a 34-member urban search and rescue team to the affected region Aug. 30 and asked a second team to stand ready to be dispatched.
The team members reported that the devastation is some of the worst that they have ever seen, according to a statement released by County Executive Doug Duncan.
Montgomery County Public Schools is also working to expedite admittance of children whose families have taken refuge here in the county with family or friends and coordinating other services needed by these families.
U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-8th) criticized the “slow federal response.” Congress pledged more than $10 billion in relief funds in an emergency session Sept. 2.
But for residents of Potomac and Montgomery County, news of federal appropriations didn’t satisfy the desire — or need — to help Katrina’s victims.
Potomac Elementary School students sold lemonade and baked goods in front of Starbucks in Potomac Village Sept. 3, raising $2,000 in three hours for the American Red Cross.
Other students from Bells Mill Elementary, Connelly School of the Holy Child, Our Lady of Mercy School, Herbert Hoover Middle School and others had similar plans — from impromptu bake sales and lemonade stands to car washes and other events to raise money for Katrina’s victims. Many were giving up their final days of summer vacation to pitch in.
Walt Whitman High School students and parents launched a campaign to collect 1,000 backpacks, stuff them with school supplies and toys, and send them to students in the affected region.
Area private schools moved quickly to make spaces for displaced students to matriculate — tuition free — for the coming school year.
This week, the Almanac dedicates most of its news coverage to the Potomac community’s response to the Katrina disaster — from a look at how a family or Louisiana natives dealt with the difficult news, to several stories of citizens young and old pitching in to support hurricane victims.