State officials on standby for hurricane

Wednesday, September 10th 2008, 1:01 pm
By: News 9

By Amy Lester, NEWS 9

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Oklahoma is getting ready for Hurricane Ike, and with landfall in a matter of days, Oklahoma City is prepared to house thousands of evacuees.

Landfall is expected Saturday morning between Houston and Corpus Christi, and evacuations are underway for the first of millions who could be in the storm's path.

For the latest on the storm's path, read Meteorologist Gary England's hurricane discussion.

Up to 4,000 people could be relocated to the Oklahoma City Evacuation Shelter.

FEMA put the OKC shelter on standby Wednesday, and the shelter is ready to house thousands of people once again at the old Lucent Technology building.

"This time we're going to accommodate for possibly more people, depending on what happens in the storm," Oklahoma City Police Sgt. Gary Knight said.

The stage is set for evacuees from Texas, trying to avoid Hurricane Ike. Just one week after the shelter hosted 1,700 evacuees from Hurricane Gustav.

"Certainly, we wish more time between hurricanes. This certainly is not about us, it's about all the people down on the coastal area who are facing enormous situation," Michaelann Ooten of Oklahoma Emergency Management said.

Many of the supplies from Hurricane Gustav are still in place, which made the setup process easier for the volunteers. FEMA told Oklahoma City to prepare for 4,000 people and stand by for further instruction. Evacuees could arrive as soon as Thursday.

"We don't know whether we'll receive people, don't know what time, don't know how many," Ooten said.

In the meantime, officials are tracking down interpreters for evacuees who don't speak English. They're sanitizing the cots, gathering supplies and waiting for evacuees to arrive.

"Obviously, this is a major humanitarian undertaking. These are human beings we're trying to move here to keep them safe," Knight said. "That's what this shelter is about, safety."

The volunteers are prepared to play host, but have received no other indication or direction about the possible evacuees.

"When it comes to being an evacuee host state, it's about waiting. Stand up and stand by and get resources ready," Ooten said.

Evacuees may arrive by plane, instead of by bus. Once the shelter is notified of the evacuees' arrival, the Red Cross will be looking for volunteers.

Officials at the shelter said upon the evacuees' arrival, they will not be checking if those misplaced are U.S. citizens, but will check if someone is arrested.

Gov. Brad Henry has declared a state of emergency for Oklahoma. This paves the way for the state to receive federal disaster assistance to cover expenses should Oklahoma receive evacuees.