Area responds to Hurricane Charley disaster

By Bob Paslay

As Florida residents battle the heat and try to pick up their lives after being devastated by Hurricane Charley, Fort Gillem and area agencies are mobilizing to help.

Fort Gillem has been designated as the Federal Mobilization Center for the Federal Emergency Management Agency relief supplies and mobile homes en route to victims in Florida.

Mobile homes and other relief supplies will begin arriving at Fort Gillem this week. The move is expected to include 8,000 vehicles and last approximately 45 days.

Meanwhile, the American Red Cross's headquarters that serves metro Atlanta has appealed for money from Clayton and Henry counties residents and begun mobilizing a massive relief effort.

The initial focus of the disaster response, the largest relief effort since Hurricane Andrew, is providing safety, shelter, food and dry clothing to tens of thousands of people.

Twenty-six metro Atlanta volunteers are among the hundreds of Red Cross volunteers rushing to the area to help. Others are on standby to respond as the need arises.

Over the weekend, 246 Red Cross shelters were set up in Florida to provide safe heaven for almost 47,000 displaced persons. In addition, the Red Cross opened 51 shelters in North Carolina and 34 in Virginia as Charley regrouped and kept on its destructive path, weakened from the Category 4, 145 miles an hour punch that hit Florida.

The Red Cross reminded residents in Clayton and Henry counties that all of their assistance is free, made possible by volunteer donations of time and money from the American people.

Financial gifts from area residents goes with other money from across the nation to provide the shelter, food, counseling and other assistance that is being provided.

If you want to help, you can contact the Atlanta Chapter at (404) 876-3302 or by calling 1-800-HELP NOW or 1-800-257-7575 in Spanish. Contributions to the Disaster Relief Fund may be sent to the Atlanta Chapter at 1955 Monroe Drive, Atlanta, Ga. 30324 or to the national American Red Cross at P.O. Box 37243, Washington, D.C. 20013.

Internet users can make secure online credit card donations by visiting www.redcrossatlanta.org.

As soon as Charley howled across central Florida Friday afternoon, First U.S. Army at Fort Gillem and across the nation activated its 24-hour crisis action team.

This put it ready to help in any way requested by FEMA. First Army has 23 pre-designated Army colonels trained in disaster relief coordination who are stationed throughout the Eastern United States. They are ready to assume the duties of a Defense Coordinating Officer and respond to requests for assistant.

"The soldiers and civilian employees of First Army and the Department of Defense are prepared to respond and assist when directed," said Lt. Col. Rich Steele, First Army Public Affairs Officer. "They will work very hard to help relieve the suffering of those affected by this disaster."