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Lending a Helping Hand

As disaster relief continues for Hurricane Katrina victims, Loudoun County does what it can to pitch in.

With the human and economic ramifications of Hurricane Katrina still being assessed, local governments across the country are attempting to support their citizens, and maintain calm in this uncertain time. In a press conference held last week, Chairman Scott York, of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, talked about Loudoun County’s efforts to aid the region affected by Hurricane Katrina and how this area can prepare itself for unseen disasters.

"Certainly this area, as well as the rest of the United States, will rise to the call to get them out of a desperate situation," said York in reference to the affected region.

In an effort to help aid the victims of the disaster, York asked the Board of Supervisors at its Tuesday meeting to pledge $25,000 in a donation to victims of the hurricane. Initiated by Brunswick County through The Virginia Association of Counties, all other areas are being challenged to meet that amount and lead by example. The measure was approved unanimously. Even so, York is also relying on local citizens to do what they can to provide even more.

"I’m asking citizens of Loudoun County to dig deep into their pockets," he said.

THE SHERIFF’S OFFICE is also attempting to aid the region by sending personnel. The first attempt to send volunteers to Louisiana last Thursday failed after the request from the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Department fell through with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the state of Louisiana. While en route to the region, 22 deputies and six emergency medical technicians traveled as far as Harrisonburg, Va., before they were told to return home because the volunteers did not have authorization from FEMA.

"We heard from Louisiana that we would no longer be needed," said County Administrator Kirby Bowers.

Another attempt to help also could not be met when officials in Mississippi requested more manpower than the county could spare. In the meantime, the county deputies are on standby for a possible trip to Jefferson Parish after all, said Kraig Troxell, public information officer for the Sheriff's Office, after Louisiana issued a request for assistance Saturday.

IN OTHER ATTEMPTS to provide disaster relief, the local chapter of the American Red Cross has been occupied with receiving evacuees, as well as training citizens to send to the Gulf Coast. With 86 displaced people already in the county, the chapter is preparing to open a shelter at Arcola Elementary School in anticipation for more to come.

"They came when they realized that their home was gone," said Carol Barbe of the local chapter of the American Red Cross. "A lot of people out of the 86 have family here."

In addition to providing shelter for evacuees, the Red Cross is also issuing Client Assist Cards. These cards, which act as credit cards funded by the local chapter in partnership with the Department of Health, are used by evacuees to purchase goods such as food, clothing and medicine. Over the past week, $30,000 has been spent providing necessary items and services for evacuees.

The chapter is also offering classes for those not trained in disaster relief. Citizens who attend this accelerated class will graduate qualified to provide care in the areas that Hurricane Katrina affected. So far, six volunteers have been shipped to the region — five went to Montgomery, Ala., and one is in Houston, Texas.

"People are taking their vacation time and going on three-week deployments," said Barbe.

IN ADDITION TO helping those in need, York also stressed the need to be prepared for emergencies. York is urging the public to store three-day emergency preparedness kits, which could sustain a family for up to 72 hours in the event of a disaster. An itemized list of the goods needed to built the kit is available on the Loudoun County government Web site. There are also instructions for storage and hints on specialty items.

"There is no reason to panic, but there is also no reason not to be prepared," said York.

As the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina is still being calculated, citizens are asked to provide help in any way they can. Information can be found on the county Web site and through the local chapter of the American Red Cross.

"It’s a horrible situation," said York. "We need to pull together as Americans and help them out in any way, shape or form that we can."