Plans to house hurricane evacuees in Nevada on hold

LAS VEGAS - Plans for Nevada to receive Gulf Coast hurricane evacuees were suspended Wednesday while federal officials reassessed how many - if any - will be sent, the state's top emergency manager said.

"It's on hold for Nevada as we speak," Butch Kinerney, spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Washington, D.C., said late Wednesday. "We're trying to assess what our final needs will be for sheltering."

Frank Siracusa, state Emergency Management Administrator, said Nevada was ready and willing to receive hundreds of evacuees under a FEMA plan that had called for 300 people to arrive in Reno on Wednesday and a total of 500 people in Las Vegas today and Monday.

"We're on a list to receive 800 individuals," Siracusa said Wednesday. "We may get 800. We may get none.

"We're not closing our operation down," he said. "We're waiting."

The move could change the plans of a grass-roots group that plans to set up a donation center in the old Wal-Mart building on South Carson Street.

Organizers of Katrina's Hope had intended the donations just for evacuees brought to Northern Nevada.

The evacuee relocation program was separate from an effort by Las Vegas-based businesses to provide hundreds of New Orleans police and firefighters with all-expenses paid mini-vacations at hotel-casinos in Southern Nevada. Forty-three firefighters and family members arrived at McCarran International Airport on Tuesday.

Authorities had planned to put 100 refugees into housing at a state mental health facility campus in Sparks, and 200 at an Army National Guard barracks in Stead.

Gambling giant Harrah's Entertainment pledged 150 rooms at its properties on the Las Vegas Strip and Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada offered 265 cots at a homeless shelter in Las Vegas.

Clark County opened an assessment center Wednesday in Las Vegas for arrivals from Gulf Coast states to obtain health screenings and register for FEMA assistance.

A county spokesman said most of the more than 175 people who showed up were staying with friends, family or at hotels and didn't need immediate housing aid.

Siracusa said the decision to slow the relocation of evacuees followed a telephone meeting involving governors and federal and state emergency preparedness and response officials from every state.

It came after confusion in some states where some hurricane evacuees balked at relocating far from Louisiana and Mississippi hometowns and others said they'd been put on airplanes without knowing where they were being taken.

"The big issue up front was trying to get people out," Siracusa said by telephone from his office in Carson City. "This is an evolving process. Now they're looking at reassessing to determine how they're going to coordinate it."

Siracusa said Nevada would remain ready to accept evacuees "until we're told not to."


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