September 10, 2005

Colorado hurricane volunteers say 
red tape is blocking their good intentions

By COLLEEN SLEVIN
Associated Press Writer

The leader of a grass-roots group bringing Hurricane Katrina families to Colorado said Friday the effort has been bogged down by red tape. "We're dealing with something unprecedented. You've got to be careful, but you've got to throw out the rule book," said Doug Sterner, whose Web site Home of Heroes.com has helped mobilize an informal network of helpers.

The group has managed to bring 30 hurricane victims to Colorado and another 70 to other states across the country where people have offered to open up their homes and vacant apartments.

Cullen Canazares, who owns an Internet company and lives in Fairplay, has been organizing pilots of small planes to pick up evacuees and bring them to Colorado and other states. He estimates there are 450 homes that people in Colorado have offered to open to evacuees but he said coordinating on the ground in the Gulf Coast where American Red Cross officials make it difficult to gain access to shelters is what's proving to be most difficult.

They've been able to find people to help through word of mouth, Web postings and lots of cell phone calls to stay in touch with each other and find evacuees who would like the chance to start over again somewhere else.

The Red Cross says it also has a responsibility to give evacuees as much privacy as they can in their new temporary home, give them time to think about what they want to do next and get connected with the government so they can receive emergency aid.

Robert Thompson, a spokesman for the Red Cross in Denver, said groups that want to help can drop off brochures explaining what they can do to help and they will pass that information on to evacuees to consider.

"We're not keeping anyone prisoner. We just will not allow anyone in who hasn't been invited," he said. "I think the easiest thing is going to be getting them into a home."

U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., who met with the group and some of the evacuated families Friday, said the devastation of the hurricane was unprecedented so it's understandable there has been confusion in coordinating the response so far.

However, he expects that to improve because as the government spends $2 billion a day on disaster relief and may soon have to also rely on help from ordinary Americans.

"We are now seeing so many Americans step up to the plate with their generosity and the outpouring of their hearts. I know they are going to be giving much more," he said.

Todd Clevenger of Denver suburb Highlands Ranch was turned away at the first shelter he stopped at in Schrevesport, La. Undeterred, he tried a hotel in nearby Alexandria, La., figuring that people who evacuated early might be staying there and running out of money.

He discovered his first group of evacuees interested in heading to Colorado or other states, including a woman who had just found a Colorado postcard while flipping through a Bible in the shelter.

Renee Barnes of New Orleans, who left Houston on a flight with her husband and five of her seven children arranged by Canazares, said the group also helped track down her missing 17-year-old son in Arkansas and put him on a bus headed for Pueblo. She has heard her other son is OK but hasn't been able to reach him yet.

"I've got one of them in school and the other two will be in on Monday. Tomorrow they're having a block party for us," said Barnes, who said her new home in Pueblo was beautiful."

Clevenger who, runs a software company with his wife Karmen, was set to leave Friday night for his second trip to Louisiana to pick up about 50 more evacuees by bus.

 

 

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