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Another 150 are arriving

More evacuees are expected to come to Utah over next week

Ann Dalcour, left, and her husband, Frank, rest at Camp Williams. The two, who haven't slept for days, have no idea where they will go next.
Ann Dalcour, left, and her husband, Frank, rest at Camp Williams. The two, who haven't slept for days, have no idea where they will go next.
Michael Brandy, Deseret Morning News

Another 150 evacuees from the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast were expected to arrive in Salt Lake City late Sunday, bringing the total to some 600 displaced Louisiana residents temporarily sheltered at Camp Williams.

The state has agreed to take up to 2,000 people left homeless by Hurricane Katrina one week ago.

The evacuees have made their way to Utah in three waves, one Saturday evening, one Sunday morning and another late Sunday night. The Utah Air National Guard expects that more will be coming over the next week, perhaps as many as two flights a day for the next five days.

By that time, those running the airport operations expect few glitches in the process.

"The first time was a little shaky getting through it. But by 6 o'clock this morning, we had it down to a science," said Greg Stewart with the Utah Air Guard Fire Department.

Firefighters help transport the non-ambulatory passengers of the plane into a temporary triage center set up inside the fire station. There, medical personnel screen the evacuees for health problems and determine who needs more focused medical treatment. Five people from Sunday morning's flight were taken to area hospitals, Thomas said.

Over the past two days, Stewart has seen "a lot of people that are in bad shape," from diabetics who have gone days without insulin to one of the most common problems, severe sunburns.

In addition to people, pets also began arriving on flights early Sunday, including a small dog wrapped like a baby with a pacifier in its mouth, perhaps in fear it wouldn't be allowed on board, and a large Rottweiler.

A kennel was even set up Sunday at Camp Williams to accommodate the animals, Utah Air National Guard Col. David Thomas said.

Most of the evacuees who have arrived in Utah are thankful to be away from the chaos of New Orleans, according to reports of those working on the ground here. But some, when given the choice of getting on a plane to Utah or staying in New Orleans, chose to stay. Thomas said 13 people who were supposed to be on Saturday night's flight got off the plane when they learned they were headed to the Beehive State.

For that reason, the evacuees don't even know where they are going until the plane lands. Thomas said relief workers are doing their best just to get the displaced residents into better conditions, wherever that may be.

"They're trying to take them out of New Orleans to anywhere they can get them to. They're not in the travel business," he said.

Many Louisiana residents, however, have had positive things to say about Utah after touching down here.

"Some people have been so impressed with the area and the reception they got here, that they said, 'You know, I just might stay here. We've got nothing to go back to,' " Thomas said.

Those expected to arrive in Utah throughout the week will largely arrive on commercial airplanes run by carrier JetBlue. The Utah Air National Guard's military airlift is suspended indefinitely, after three KC-135s sent to New Orleans Sunday returned empty.

The first plane arrived at the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport shortly before noon.

"We were told they had had so much military and commercial traffic that they didn't have any more people right then to pick up," said Lt. Col. Kurt Davis of the Utah Air National Guard. "So, they asked them to just turn around and come back."

The plane's crew then called the other two Utah Air National Guard jets and told them to turn around as well, he said.

The terminal at the Louisiana airport, which Saturday night was filled with more than a thousand evacuees seeking somewhere to go, was empty Sunday, the first plane's crew told Davis.

A representative from the Defense Department and the Federal Emergency Management Agency told the Utah Air National Guard that the airlift has been more successful than originally thought.

For now, the Utah Air National Guard will remain on standby until more refugees are ready to be evacuated.

"What's coming in is coming in at a slower pace because they've picked up a lot of people at the obvious places, like the convention center and the Superdome," Davis said. "So, now it's just onesies, twosies and just finding them and taking them in, so the airlift is slowing down."

Fifteen soldiers from the Utah National Guard's 19th Special Forces Group, First Battalion, are currently in New Orleans to assist in the search and rescue effort.

In Salt Lake City, Guard members are happy to be able to help and do something for their country.

"In my opinion, it's about time that we can do something to do some good. A lot of the time those of us at this base don't get a chance to get out and do what we want," Stewart said. "We've got the war going on, and we sit and watch it on TV."

The response from all agencies and areas of the community has been comforting, he said. "Stuff like this brings out the best in most people."


Contributing: Leigh Dethman

E-mail: awelling@desnews.com, preavy@desnews.com