RAYMOND and SOUTHEASTERN U.S. - With Hurricane Ivan bearing down on the Southeast two weeks ago, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) sent out a mass recruitment for its Citizens Corps to help with clean-up after the destructive storm. That message reached all across the nation in hopes of garnering at least 2,000 volunteers, five of whom are from Pacific County.
Stephanie Fritts, Emergency Management coordinator for Pacific County, received an e-mail on Sept. 5 asking that she get the word out locally. Through an e-mail sent by her, over the next two days she started getting a response from people interested in helping.
"So far, all of those who sent in an application were accepted," she said late last week.
There were some requirements for those volunteering. They must be ready to leave immediately, have at least $500 cash on hand, be at least 25 years old, have no felony convictions, pass a government background check, bring at least six weeks of medication if needed and be willing to work long hours under rigorous conditions.
"This is hard work," said Fritts, "this is not a vacation. It's a lot of hard work." Fritts noted that in order to volunteer they were also sworn in as a federal government employees.
The first three volunteers - which are on a two-week deployment - left Sept. 10, and the second two - on a four- to six-week deployment - left last Thursday. In the first group are two Pacific County employees: Debbie Kelly of the Public Works Department and Randy Steeves from the Department of Community Development. Along with them was Pat Chestnut of Raymond, whose wife, Valerie, an accountant with the auditor's office, told him about the recruitment.
"I'm the one who brought it home to him," she said last Thursday. "I told him it was up to him, then I got nervous."
At that point last week the storm was just starting to hit and her husband had yet to be sent into action - up till then he had been on stand-by at a hotel in Atlanta, waiting.
"It's quite wet right now, we're getting a lot of rain and wind," said Chestnut from his hotel room Thursday evening. "We're in a holding pattern, it's going pretty slow."
"I think he's adjusted well but when he gets down to the disaster area I don't know how he will react," said Valerie, noting that her husband's two-week deployment didn't start until he was in the field - at that time he had already been gone for a week.
The second local group to go, which can be there upwards of six weeks, was made up of Pacific County Commissioner Pat Hamilton and Denny Porter of Raymond. Fritts said there is still the potential of deploying more people to that disaster area if the clean-up efforts take longer than six weeks.
"It depends on how much damage is done and the breath of the affected areas," she said. "They won't leave anyone out there for more than six weeks."
During Hurricane Andrew in 1992, FEMA was chastised for not deploying people fast enough to the scene once it was over. Now its plan is to stage people closer to the event, in order to get them in quicker. The Citizen Corps is a national network of state, local and tribal Citizen Corps Councils. Currently there are 54 state/territory councils and 1,333 county/local/tribal councils which serve 144,728,566 people - about 50 percent of the total U.S. population.
The three county employees are volunteering under their own will and are on unpaid leave from their jobs until they return. Fritts said that the little contact she has received has been passed on by supervisors or relatives who have received calls. Fritts has sent out several e-mails to the various employees of the county updating them on the situation over the last week. She said she also gave money to some of the volunteers for them to purchase disposable cameras to take pictures of what they see. Fritts said the pictures, as well as reports by each volunteer, will be given to her after they return for the county's use.
Hurricane Ivan killed over 100 people in the Caribbean and the U.S. during its 10-day run. Thousands of homes were flattened by the third major hurricane to hit the southern U.S. in six weeks and more than one million homes were without power, according to a news report Sunday. President Bush declared Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi disaster areas. The storm also caused damage in several other states with strong winds and flooding.