As Hurricane Gustav prepared to barrel into the Gulf Coast states on Sunday, Kentucky received its first wave of Gustav evacuees from Louisiana.
By Sunday afternoon, Louisville had received five Federal Emergency Management Agency-chartered planes carrying 600 evacuees, most of them from the New Orleans area. Kentucky was expecting several more planes with evacuees to land Sunday night, said Chris Poynter, a spokesman for Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson.
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Lexington was notified shortly after 3 p.m. that it was being deactivated as an evacuee site. It will keep a shelter at Centenary United Methodist Church on Tates Creek Road on standby in case other non-official evacuees — those who did not take FEMA-chartered flights — come to Kentucky.
Originally, Louisville was supposed to accept up to 1,500 evacuees and then divert evacuees to Lexington, Owensboro and Bowling Green. But it was decided Sunday that Louisville would keep all the evacuees up to 3,000.
By Sunday afternoon, the weather in New Orleans was becoming too dicey for flights. It was unlikely that Louisville would receive the full 3,000 on Sunday, officials said.
"We expect (the number of evacuees) to increase until they can no longer fly anymore or there are no more passengers," Poynter said Sunday.
The Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center, where the evacuees are housed, has been turned into a mini-city. Police and emergency medical serv ices are on standby. There are rooms just for sleeping, rooms for TV-watching and socializing, and areas for kids to play in. Papa John's, Yum foods and others have been at the fairgrounds to help feed people.
"Most people are interested in watching TV because they are obviously concerned about what's going on back home," Poynter said.
The first plane arrived shortly after 9 p.m. Friday. Many people had been awake for hours waiting to be evacuated.
"We had some people who came in late (Friday) night who said, 'Where am I again? Is this Nashville?' " Poynter said.
Louisville is expecting to keep people for at least five to seven days. "If people need long-term relocation assistance, we will have people from social services working to help them find housing," he said.
Pat Dugger, director of emergency management for Fayette County, said Saturday that Lexington was ready to handle 700 evacuees, thanks to the Salvation Army, the Red Cross and an assortment of churches including Centenary United Methodist, one of two designated special-needs shelters. On Saturday the church's gym was stocked with blown-up air mattresses, blankets and pillows.
As Kentucky welcomed Gustav's evacuees from Louisiana, Kentucky's National Guard sent equipment and personnel south.
Five helicopters from the Boone National Guard Center in Frankfort took off after noon Sunday for Louisiana. On board were 32 Army personnel. An additional 350 Army personnel from the 1st Battalion, 623rd Field Artillery and 203rd Forward Support Co. — with armories in Glasgow, Tompkinsville, Campbellsville, Monticello, Elizabethtown and Brandenburg — were to leave early Monday. They will travel by convoy, said Col. Phil Miller.
"They will initially go to a staging area outside of the storm's path and then receive their assignments," Miller said. He said it was not known how long the 1st Battalion will be gone.
Twenty-six conservation officers with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife will leave Monday morning for Baton Rouge, said Mark Marraccini, spokesman for the department. Kentucky conservation officers were in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. But the officers arrived after the storm. This time, the officers wanted to be within 45 minutes of New Orleans if they are needed, Marraccini said. The officers would be helping with law enforcement and search and rescue, Marraccini said.
The Bluegrass Area chapter of the Red Cross sent its mobile feeding truck to Hattiesburg, Miss., on Wednesday with two staff members. A third volunteer was going to the Gulf Coast area to help with disaster assistance, said Kerry Graul, disaster coordinator for the Bluegrass chapter, which includes Lexington. Graul said the chapter decided to keep its volunteers in their home area in case they are needed to help with evacuees.
Both Poynter and Graul stressed that the evacuees do not need blankets or other necessities. If people want to help, they should donate money to their local Red Cross, which will make sure that money goes to disaster relief, Graul said.