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Disaster hits minorities hard, Utahn says

Group, S.L. County work on readiness of ethnic communities

Ljubica "Buba" Roth, spokeswoman for the Utah Consortium of Minority Groups, says it's disturbing that in New Orleans, low income minorities seem to be overwhelmingly "on the margins of survival."

According to the 2000 Census, 67 percent of New Orleans' population is black. The 1999 poverty rate was 23.7 percent, and 27 percent of households had no vehicle available.

Pam Perlich, senior research economist at the University of Utah's Bureau of Economic and Business Research, said "this is particularly problematic in an evacuation strategy based on automobiles."

She pointed to census figures for Salt Lake City, where 12.7 percent of households had no vehicles in 2000.

"In an auto evacuation, who's going to be left behind? Poor people with no cars," she said.

Roth said Utah may not have the same poverty or minority numbers as Louisiana, but it does have substantial minority and immigrant population. Many people, she said, "do not speak English, they have no cell phone, no car. . . . In a disaster, they don't know who to talk to."

The consortium is working with Salt Lake County to administer a $6,000 Homeland Security Grant to reach out to minorities, Roth said. It's not much, she said, but it's a start.

The point, she said, "is to modify what is already out in the community and teach our ethnic population what to do, and who to call."

Leaders of Utah's minority communities will receive disaster preparedness training and take that back to their communities.

Salt Lake County Sheriff's Lt. Robert Sampson, program manager for homeland security, said he's hoping the grant money will be released by sometime next week.

He noted that disaster warnings are in English and may be in media outlets that don't reach all segments of the population.

"All community groups certainly need more outreach," Sampson said. "For foreign-speaking community groups, obviously that training is particularly beneficial."