The first desperate residents of the two states hit hardest by the storm could begin arriving as early as today, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said Wednesday. Some will be shuttled to a 400-bed wintertime overflow shelter for the homeless in Midvale. The rest probably will be housed in military barracks at Camp Williams.
No one knows how long they will have to stay.
Utah is one of four states involved in the evacuation of thousands of hurricane victims, many of whom have lost everything in the storm. Huntsman fielded a call Wednesday from the lieutenant governor of Louisiana.
"It was just a plea for help," Huntsman said. "We need to find shelter. We need to find food and [provide for the refugees'] basic quality of life. The other issues will sort themselves out."
Tennessee, Texas and Oklahoma also have offered to take in the weary homeless. The multi-state rescue effort will be coordinated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and paid for by the U.S. Department of Defense.
Huntsman gathered members of his Cabinet on Wednesday to figure out how many people state resources can accommodate. Based on the space available on three National Guard KC-135 planes, which hold between 40 and 50 people each, and the number of beds in homeless shelters, the governor and his advisers settled on 1,000. They figure 500 could be moved within 24 hours.
That number could go up. At least 37,000 battered residents are crowded into the New Orleans Saints' Superdome, a football stadium with now-overflowing toilets and no electricity. Many were being evacuated to the Houston Astrodome, which can hold only 25,000.
Huntsman said he has notified Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson and Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon that the numbers of refugees the state takes in could increase.
Besides sheltering the hurricane victims in Utah, state Highway Patrol troopers may be sent to the region to relieve exhausted law enforcement officers there. And the Utah Health Department is coordinating with the Centers for Disease Control to perhaps send Utah doctors and nurses, sanitarians and public health lawyers.
National Guard Assistant Adjutant Gen. Bruce Frandsen said Utah has about 5,000 troops not deployed in Iraq. Some of those citizen soldiers trained as medics, chaplains and police officers also could be sent to Louisiana and Mississippi.
When the refugees arrive, health department staff will screen them for any diseases that need to be treated and then send them on to the shelter.
"We are hoping we might be able to take care of them," said Health Department Director Scott Sundwall.
State leaders were waiting for the call from FEMA late Wednesday.
Besides the state agencies involved, Utah churches also have been recruited to help.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sent 16 truckloads of relief supplies from Dallas. And Huntsman adviser Pamela Atkinson, a year-round advocate for the homeless, said she has asked several Mormon wards to provide three meals a day for the refugees as soon as they arrive in Utah. Atkinson plans to organize clothing drives. And the state will coordinate with the Jordan School District to provide space for children who will need to go to school.
The relief effort could take weeks or months, Atkinson said. Additional churches, the Red Cross and other shelters will be asked for help as time goes on.
"Most people will arrive with what they're standing up in," she said. "Our community is quite capable of coming up with the resources to take care of these people."
As some Utahns prepare to accommodate hurricane refugees here, others are in the disaster zone or are on their way.
At least 34 volunteers from Red Cross organizations in Utah have deployed to the disaster left by Hurricane Katrina.
Fifteen are from the Ogden area, 12 from the Great Salt Lake chapter and seven are from Provo.
The volunteers are spread across the waterlogged southern United States and are likely helping to distribute food and clean water, according to chapter CEO Marianne Geyer.
"They're out there some place, we just don't know where they've been deployed at this point," Geyer said.
Tribune reporter Tyler Peterson contributed to this story.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
A variety of other Utah-based organizations also are rendering aid in one of the nation's worst natural disasters on record:
Smith's Food and Drug Stores
Smith's Food and Drug Stores in the Intermountain area will accept cash donations from customers and employees throughout September to help the hurricane victims. Donations will be accepted at all checkstands in Smith's 128 stores in Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.
The United Way has activated the Hurricane Katrina Response Fund.
Donations to the fund will be allocated for both front-line disaster relief and long-term recovery needs as determined by local United Ways and other charities in affected areas.
Donations can be made through United Way of Salt Lake's Web site, http://www.uw.org.
The LDS Church on Wednesday sent 14 semitruck loads of provisions, including bottled water, tents, tarps, chainsaws and some food commodities. Contributions to the church's disaster relief effort can be sent to LDS Church Humanitarian Fund, 50 E. North Temple, Salt Lake City, UT 84150.
Chabad Lubavitch, an Orthodox Jewish group here in Utah, is collecting funds and goods for victims of the New Orleans disaster. Participants can find more information on how to contribute at http://www.chabadneworleans.com. Alternatively donations can be sent via any local Chabad branch.
The Catholic Church is assisting hurricane victims via Catholic Charities USA. Send donations to Catholic Charities USA, 2005 Hurricane Relief Fund, PO Box 25168, Alexandria, VA 22313-9788. More information can be found at http://www.catholiccharitiesusa.org, or call 800-919-9338.
The Episcopal Church is accepting financial donations for hurricane relief through its national relief agency, Episcopal Relief and Development. Donations can be made via the group's Web site, http://www.er-d.org, 24 hours a day; by calling 800-334-7626, ext. 5129, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST; or by sending a check payable to Episcopal Relief and Development, Box 12043, Newark, NJ 07101-5043.