Sunday, September 04, 2005 | Saying that “San Diego is open, willing and prepared” to accept evacuees from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, local American Red Cross officials announced Sunday that 80 individuals who lost everything in the disaster were expected to arrive in San Diego and would be cared for by the organization.

At a news conference Sunday afternoon, Ronne Froman, chief executive officer for the San Diego and Imperial County chapters of the American Red Cross, said she has been collaborating with other city and county agencies for the past 48 hours to solidify arrangements, ever since her chapter was notified late Thursday by the Federal Emergency Management Agency that San Diego may be asked to accept evacuees.

Froman said her agency’s priorities are to provide immediate shelter, food, clothing, medical care and comfort for these 80 victims, about 15 to 20 of whom were said to be children ranging in age from 1 to 18 years old.

The evacuees are being housed temporarily in the gymnasium at Kearny High School, where cots and blankets supplied by the Red Cross have been neatly laid out, showers are available and a medical care facility has been established to provide initial health screenings.

“We are prepared to shelter them indefinitely,” said San Diego Unified School District Interim Superintendent Leslie Fausset. “It is our moral obligation. It is an opportunity for this community to come together for a cause bigger than us.”

Because school starts at Kearny High School on Tuesday, Froman said her goal is to house the Katrina victims at the school overnight only and move them to hotels as soon as possible. She said she is working with other agencies, including private Catholic and Jewish organizations, to find more permanent homes. Froman also said she is working with officials at San Diego State University to identify further evacuation sites.

But Fausset said it is not a concern that school will start on Tuesday and that the school district will provide shelter for the evacuees as long as is necessary. Should the victims still be housed in the gym when school starts, students will not mingle with them, and only physical education classes will be disrupted, she said, noting that security will be provided by the San Diego Police Department.

Augie Ghio, director of homeland security for the city of San Diego, said the refugee group consists of about 15 to 17 families who will be staged at the school. “Our goal is to preserve their dignity and give them some time to be able to reassess, to get some services that they require and move them on with their lives so they can start the rebuilding process,” he said.

Froman said the 80 people were being flown to San Diego through the efforts of a private individual, David Perez, who reportedly chartered a plane to transport the families. Perez, 41, is chairman and chief operating officer of Surge Global Energy, Inc., an oil and gas company based in Carmel Valley. Red Cross disaster public affairs officer Gayle Falkenthal said the refugees were from Baton Rouge. These particular people were chosen by FEMA for evacuation to San Diego, Froman said.

Falkenthal said the local Red Cross is prepared to accept up to 600 more individuals. “This is what we feel we can process,” she said.

Fausset said she was preparing for many more families and plans to make more schools available to the Red Cross, including elementary and middle schools as well as high schools. Under the Field Act for Public Schools, enacted in California in 1933, school facilities are required to be constructed to rigorous building standards to withstand earthquakes and other natural disasters, and are therefore often used as disaster relief facilities. San Diego city schools were used for such a purpose as recently as October 2003 during the San Diego wildfire disaster.

Both school district and Red Cross officials said it is a priority to register the children for school and enroll them as quickly as possible. Emergency situations allow normal enrollment procedures to be waived. “We welcome these students,” Fausset said, adding that it is critical the community do all it can to make sure the children “are happy at school and healthy at school.”

San Diego Deputy Mayor Toni Atkins said that the citizens of San Diego are “opening their hearts, their homes, and certainly open arms” for the disaster victims, “just as the nation reached out to us several years ago during the Cedar fire.” She said San Diegans must help them “get their lives back together … and support the dignity and privacy that these individuals need.”

Also speaking at the news conference was state Sen. Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, who pledged a state of California effort to aid the hurricane victims. “Our hearts go out to the survivors and victims of Hurricane Katrina,” she said.

San Diego City Councilmember Tony Young said that many residents in his District Four have strong connections to these individuals in the south. “We’re willing, we’re ready, we’re prepared” to help in this effort, he said.

Froman did not know how much this local effort will cost the Red Cross but said $200 million has been raised by the Red Cross nationally to help victims of the disaster. She asked that those wishing to donate send money rather than goods. For parents who want to help, Fausset too suggested cash donations to the Red Cross, which is overseeing the mobilization.

For further information on how to help, contact the Red Cross at (800) HELP-NOW or visit

Please contact Marsha Sutton directly at

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