setembro 10, 2005

KATRINA / Red Cross needs 40,000 volunteers

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"We're not going to be able to fix this overnight"

The American Red Cross put out an urgent call Saturday for 40,000 new volunteers to help feed, house and comfort Hurricane Katrina victims.

"This is a disaster of such scope and such significance, it's not going to go away in a few weeks or a few months," Red Cross spokesman John Degnan said.

"We're putting out an appeal to people to step forward and volunteer so they can be trained."

It was the largest recruitment drive in the organization's 125-year history.

Degnan said such an extraordinary response is needed for "a disaster unprecedented in its impact and scope in the United States."

He added, "We're not going to be able to fix this overnight. We're going to need a long time and a lot of people."

The first shift of 10,000 recruits will be needed in two weeks to relieve 36,000 volunteers now deployed, he said.

More than 160,000 Hurricane Katrina survivors are staying at 675 shelters in 23 states, he said.

Also Saturday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency worked to get the word out to hurricane victims that a program offering them debit cards worth between $350 and $2,000 is quickly coming to an end.

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The cards were "in short supply," FEMA spokesman Tom Costello said Friday night.

FEMA said evacuees may instead receive $2,000 through direct deposits to their banks or through mailed checks. Families could apply online at or over the phone at (800)-621-FEMA.

The debit card program was a pilot project designed to help evacuees get some money quickly, explained FEMA spokesman Michael Widomski in Washington. But for logistical reasons, direct deposits and checks were preferable, he said.

As of Saturday morning, FEMA had given out more than $650 million in expedited assistance, said Widomski. A little more than $13 million was via debit cards.

Debit cards will continue to be distributed to people at Texas' major evacuation shelters in Houston, Dallas and San Antonio.

People who have found accommodations are not eligible for them, however.

Electronic signs throughout the three cities urged people not to show up at the evacuation centers to get the debit cards.

Meanwhile, the Red Cross began distributing debit cards Saturday morning at the St. Agnes Church in Houston, instead of at the Reliant Center, said spokesman Gregory Smith.

FEMA has come under fire for its handling of Hurricane Katrina's aftermath under the leadership of Michael Brown. On Friday, Brown was sent back to Washington and Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad Allen replaced him as the top official in charge of the federal relief effort.