Missouri residents and businesses aid Gustav effort

Tuesday, September 2, 2008 | 5:37 p.m. CDT

ST. LOUIS - Hurricane Gustav hit the Gulf Coast hundreds of miles away from Missouri, but efforts around the state Tuesday lent support to the recovery efforts.

The Coast Guard set up shop at a federal building in downtown St. Louis to coordinate its activities; Anheuser-Busch provided cans of water instead of beer to spots in need of aid and a few emergency shelters - though largely unused - remained open around the state.

About 180 people were coordinating the Coast Guard's response to the hurricane from temporarily expanded offices in St. Louis, relying on a network of computers, radios and cell phones, said Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer Adam Wine, who is normally based out of Washington, D.C.

While local emergency responders had assisted Louisiana residents, the Coast Guard had not needed to conduct any rescues in connection with the hurricane, Wine said Tuesday morning. He largely credited that to the public receiving advance word of the hurricane and taking precautions to keep out of harm's way.

"It's definitely people heeding the word," he said. "People did the right thing."

Gustav came ashore about 70 miles southwest of New Orleans on Monday morning. Eight deaths were attributed to the storm in the United States after it killed more than 90 people across the Caribbean. About a million people were reported to be without power Tuesday.

About 1,300 members of the Missouri National Guard were deployed to assist in the hurricane-stricken region. They helped with evacuations and were expected to assist when residents were able to return home.

The Guard was assisting with the movement of supplies, providing security and aircraft maintenance, said Jessica Robinson, spokeswoman for Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt.

St. Louis-based brewer Anheuser-Busch said about three-quarters of a million cans of drinking water had been distributed ahead of the hurricane to wholesalers along the Gulf of Mexico. The water would be distributed by relief agencies in areas hard hit by Gustav.

The brewer geared up again Monday to ship nearly an equal amount of water from a production line in Jacksonville, Fla., due to the approach of tropical storms like Hanna and Ike. The water is packaged in white cans that indicate it's drinking water and bear the company's logo.

Anheuser-Busch has been providing the water free of charge to communities faced with natural disaster for about two decades, said Dale Pendleton, the company's senior director of environmental health, safety and security.

The brewer said it was in a unique position to provide water to those in need. "When a natural disaster strikes, very simply put, we have a responsibility to package and provide water to our neighbors, and we're proud to do so," said Peter Kraemer, vice president of operations, in a statement.

Louisiana asked Missouri to provide assistance in four areas - to give National Guard support; to contribute 10 ambulances, emergency vehicles and 22 personnel to transport those with medical or special needs. Missouri also was asked to help respond to needs on the water with six boats, and 12 water patrol and conservation staff; and to set up emergency shelters.

Susie Stonner, spokeswoman for the State Emergency Management Agency, said Missouri originally heard that 3,000 to 5,000 people might be air evacuated into the state.

She said Friday's shelter request resulted in a massive effort to prepare shelters around the state by Sunday at noon, at which point Missouri learned it was unlikely those evacuations would occur.

Stonner said Louisiana, and not Missouri, assumes the costs related to setting up those shelters. "There are other storms coming in," she noted, pointing to the prediction of more hurricanes and tropical storms in coming weeks.

A Red Cross spokeswoman in St. Louis, Jessica Willingham, said shelters in Columbia and Springfield remained open, with reports of just a few people seeking shelter so far. A large shelter in St. Louis County was replaced by a smaller one. Other Red Cross shelters in the state had closed, she said.

Two residents from the St. Louis region, Mike Wood, 54, and Larry Boyer, 68, drove a special Red Cross vehicle to Shreveport, La., where they prepared to distribute hot meals and snacks Tuesday.

Wood said trees "were bending pretty good" the night before, and he was still looking out at a steady downpour from Gustav, but said he hadn't thought twice about helping out. "I've always believed what you give is what you get," he said. "One of these days, it could be me."


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