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Many in line frustrated as Red Cross aims to serve thousands

Thousands of people affected by Hurricane Katrina braved lovebug swarms, high temperatures and long lines Monday as American RedCross officials tried to improve their system for providingassistance.

A line, which began forming late Sunday night, circled theLincoln County Multi-Use Facility parking lot on Belt Line Road. Byday’s end, though, only about 800 had managed to get in to getdisaster assistance provided by Red Cross.

Monday’s activity followed two days of similar efforts at aCourt Street location in the city. The assistance center, which isopen from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. daily, was moved to the countyfacility to accommodate more people, said Tim Connolly, Red Crossrelief coordinator.

Once inside the service center, residents speak with one of 13interviewers, who collect information about the number ofdependents in the family and storm damage, Connolly said. He saidthere are five levels of assistance, ranging from around $350 forsingles to $1,500 for families of five or more.

Center activities were scheduled to resume today with assistancegeared toward helping New Orleans and coastal Mississippiresidents, while Wednesday will be for Lincoln and surroundingcounties served by the chapter. Connolly said 500 were aided Sundayand 800 Monday, and he expected that number to grow in the daysahead.

“Each day we can do more because the system gets better,” saidConnolly, who was unsure about who would be the focus Thursday orFriday.

Beth and Mickey Saucier, a Long Beach couple whose home washeavily damaged in the storm, said they were turned away around 9a.m. today because they did not have a ticket. The Sauciers, whoare staying with relatives in Meadville, said they were unaware ofany ticket system at the center.

“People need to know they’re not getting the help beingadvertised,” said Beth Saucier, mentioning television reports aboutthe center.

Mickey Saucier said the line at a center in Natchez was sixblocks long. He said they decided to come to Brookhaven.

“I knew we’d never get in,” he said.

From busy telephones lines to long lines, the Sauciers expressedfrustration with the overall assistance process. Mickey Saucierlikened coastal relief efforts to a “prison camp” to get food,water or other help.

“They need to coordinate things better than they’re doing,” hesaid. “We’re trying to go about things the right way, but nobodycan tell you the right way.”

During this morning’s briefing with local officials, CliffordGaley, Brookhaven-Lincoln County Civil Defense director, said RedCross officials were identifying 1,000 people to be interviewedtoday.

Some residents in line Monday at the Red Cross center indicatedyesterday’s system left something to be desired.

“The system … it’s kind of rough,” said Brookhaven residentWillie Keys, who estimated he had been in line about seven hoursbefore being turned away around 11:45 a.m. Monday.

Keys, whose damages included roof, uprooted trees and food loss,said he had been in line Sunday and was also unsuccessful. Thedisabled resident said it was tough to stand in line.

“Right now, I’m getting out of breath trying to fight thisline,” Keys said.

Some ahead of Keys in line voiced displeasure with how impactedcitizens were being helped.

“I think they should have gone with Lincoln County first …,”said Teresia Levi, of Lincoln County. “We couldn’t even getassistance because of all the counties here.”

Levi said a tree fell on her home and she lost some food.

A few places behind Levi in line was fellow county residentValerie Lyons, who said she had been in line since 3 a.m.

“It’s moving a little,” Lyons said about progress.

Donna Segreto, of Tylertown, used a shirt as a shade to keep thesun off her head. So some could be in the shade, she saidorganizers could have lined people up along the side of thebuilding.

“They’ve got one location for everybody,” Segreto said.

The three women were among those who made it through a checkpoint before the line was stopped. Connolly told those farther backin line that no more people could be seen Monday.

Most dispersed quietly, although a few did not leaveimmediately. They hung around to plead their cases with Connolly orstayed in hopes of getting a jump on their next opportunity.

“I’m going to be first in line for Wednesday,” said a Magnoliaresident, who did not wish to be identified.

The woman said she still had no lights and no water becauseelectricity is needed work the family’s private pump. Although shewas being turned away, the resident was understanding of thesituation.

“I feel like they’re doing the best they can,” she said.

Connolly said 275 people at a time can be inside theair-conditioned multi-use facility. Regarding the limited locationsfor assistance, he cited difficulties in finding places largeenough.

“We couldn’t find a building anywhere,” Connolly said.

Others who stayed complained about the long line, peopleskipping in line and the fact there were “no guarantees” of gettingassistance if they returned another day. Some said they had stoodin line all three days and had not gotten in.

Connolly acknowledged some deficiencies and said Red Crossofficials were considering ways to improve the system.

“I want to find a better way,” Connolly said. “I don’t like asystem that puts so much of a burden on individuals.”

Connolly complimented residents on their patience andunderstanding.

“It’s gone smooth,” Connolly said. “Many of the folks have beenhere since nine or 10 last night.”

Members of the Indiana National Guard manned the checkpoints inthe parking lot, while sheriff’s deputies monitored traffic atseveral intersections near the facility. Connolly said theirassistance has been outstanding.

“Everyone has chipped in to try to make it operate aseffectively and efficiently as possible,” Connolly said.

Connolly said the center would be open at least throughFriday.

“We’ll stay until everybody who needs our assistance gets ourassistance,” Connolly said.

Connolly said the Red Cross’ goal is to help evacuees as well asresidents in the disaster who were affected by the storm.

“We have to address both, and that’s what we’re doing,” Connollysaid.

He said handling evacuees takes a little more time. Typically,he said, they have less documentation and require morequestions.

“It’s trying to serve the needs as quickly as possible to getthem that assistance,” Connolly said.