Red Cross Cares for Thousands Across Tennessee

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DIPTI VAIDYA / THE TENNESSEAN  New Orleans residents Tammy Fenderson, left, and Linda Thompson anxiously watch TV reports from Louisiana on Monday at the Red Cross shelter at Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville. The Red Cross says there are 450 to 500 evacuees in Nashville and 10,000 in the state.

New Orleans residents Tammy Fenderson, left, and Linda Thompson anxiously watch TV reports from Louisiana on Monday at the Red Cross shelter at Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville. The Red Cross says there are 450 to 500 evacuees in Nashville and 10,000 in the state. DIPTI VAIDYA / THE TENNESSEAN

By MATT MEDVED

Willie Butler had not planned to spend his Labor Day at a Red Cross shelter in Nashville.

But the 52-year-old New Orleans resident wasn’t complaining as he scanned the television news coverage of Hurricane Gustav, sitting in a makeshift cafeteria at Two Rivers Baptist Church.

“I’m just very relieved it wasn’t as bad as they said it could be,” Butler said. “I’m hoping to get on back there soon.”

Three years ago in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Butler was stranded for 11 days in his flooded Mid City Bowl apartment before boats rescued him from the 7-foot waves. While he had considered waiting out the storm again this time, he decided to heed the mayor’s orders and boarded a Mass Care evacuation plane to Nashville on Friday night.

Butler was one of more than 2,000 Gustav evacuees being housed in 10 Red Cross and Tennessee Emergency Management Agency shelters across Middle Tennessee. Red Cross spokeswoman Jill Gorin said there were 450 to 500 evacuees in Nashville and 10,000 evacuees in the state.

Although a Nashville Red Cross representative was deployed to the Gulf Coast before the storm hit, there are no current plans for additional deployments unless the Federal Emergency Management Agency authorizes them. Instead the local Red Cross is focusing its efforts on taking care of evacuees in Tennessee.

Guard is on the way

“In the last 48 hours, statewide the Red Cross has distributed more meals than we did in the entire Tennessee tornado relief operation” in February,” Gorin said.

Some 600 state National Guard soldiers and airmen were preparing to deploy to the Gulf Coast on Monday.

Although his area did not appear to have been hit hard, Butler was still concerned that his neighborhood could flood if the levee walls failed.

“People think they’re going to go home tomorrow,” Butler said. “There’s no way. If that levee gives way, it could be just as bad as last time.”

John Lee, a Red Cross volunteer at the Two Rivers shelter, said about 180 evacuees had been flown in to the shelter Saturday.

‘Tension, uncertainty’

“The Red Cross will be here as long as the evacuees need us,” Lee said.

Although Lee described the evacuees as calm and cooperative, he acknowledged that there was also an atmosphere of “tension and uncertainty.”

This sentiment was etched into the creased face of Lavell Hewitt, 52, of New Orleans, who had just received word that his home’s area in the Ninth Ward was underwater.

“I’m just glad to be out and well,” Hewitt said.

Hewitt spent two days waiting for rescue on the roof of his waterlogged home before helicopters came to his aid in 2005. He had to rebuild his home months later upon his return.

“I had just finished working on my home when the storm came,” Hewitt said. “Looks like I have to start over again.”

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~ by Matt Medved on September 4, 2008.

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