COLUMBIA — Evacuees from Louisiana began arriving in Columbia on Monday afternoon to spend the night at Calvary Baptist Church, an emergency shelter set up to aid those fleeing Hurricane Gustav.
The church, one of about eight shelters opened in Missouri this weekend by the American Red Cross for hurricane evacuees, has cots, food and personal supplies for 100.
Call 211 or (800) 427-4626 to volunteer with the Red Cross to help hurricane evacuees.
A volunteer processing center will be open from 3 to 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Salvation Army, 1108 W. Ash St.
The first three evacuees arrived just as the shelter was opening at 3 p.m. Monday.
Major K. Kendall Mathews, regional coordinator of the Salvation Army for Columbia and Jefferson City, described the group as "an engaged couple and their nephew" from the Ninth Ward, a New Orleans neighborhood still struggling to rebuild from Hurricane Katrina's aftermath.
"These are people who have had to leave for the second time," said Mathews, who spent four hours praying and eating lunch with the family.
"They were turned away from other states' shelters and heard about Columbia's reputation and history of serving people," he said.
The Mid-Missouri chapter of the Red Cross received confirmation of 10 additional evacuees who were expected to arrive at the shelter at 606 Ridgeway Ave. some time Monday evening.
Nearly 2 million people left coastal Louisiana over the weekend to avoid the storm, which eventually weakened and skirted New Orleans.
Calvary Baptist had originally been designated a standby shelter when Missouri expected to receive up to 5,000 evacuees on government-chartered flights.
Before noon Sunday, Missouri shelters learned that evacuees had been rerouted to other states after some flights were cancelled.
Around 1 p.m. Monday, a sign on the church's activities building still directed evacuees to call 211 for directions to Springfield, the closest shelter that had already opened.
When Red Cross officials learned that evacuees were close to Columbia, a decision was made to open the one at Calvary Baptist.
By 2 p.m., volunteers from the chapter, as well as the Columbia Fire Department's Community Emergency Response Team and the Missouri Department of Social Services had arrived.
They removed green cots from boxes and assembled them on the basketball court at the church. A television set was wheeled in, although the activities building has no cable.
Volunteers discussed connecting a laptop computer to a projector, hoping to broadcast streaming video that would keep the evacuees informed about the condition of their hometowns.
Karen Viebrock, emergency services director of the American Red Cross Mid-Missouri Chapter, gathered the volunteers, none of whom had worked at the shelter during Hurricane Katrina three years ago, for instructions and advice.
"I'm not going to tell you that they won't cry on your shoulders because they probably will," she said. "They'll probably like hugs."
The shelter opened with 15 volunteers, who prepared to work 12-hour shifts until more volunteers could be organized.
Red Cross officials said they learned from Hurricane Katrina to remain alert and prepare for standby early.
"It wasn't really hectic at all," Mike Odneal, executive director of the local Red Cross chapter, said of the preparation.
Calvary Baptist sheltered 30 people after Hurricane Katrina but processed 100, with most staying with relatives in the area but needing personal items, clothing and food.
"We do have standby shelters ready, if needed, to roll over to," Odneal said. "At this time it's difficult to say (whether they will be necessary). It depends on how the rest of the country fills up."
Twenty standby shelters in Columbia and more than 20 in Jefferson City have been put on notice, he said.
While no predictions have been made about how long evacuees will remain at Calvary Baptist, Odneal said he had been told to prepare for two weeks.
"We are currently ascertaining what the needs are," Mathews said. "It's a little premature to determine, but as time goes on, then we can engage the community specifically in what we need."
The shelter is presently not in need of clothing or food donations, Odneal said. Those wanting to donate monetarily can do so through the national and local American Red Cross Web sites.