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Thursday, September 08, 2005

Camps 

Our steadfast colleague Michael Hawkins of Spontaneous Arising links to a report by Don Nash of Unknown News on the security conditions at Camp Williams in Utah, where refugees from Hurricane Katrina are being housed -- or, as the intemperate Mr. Nash would put it, where the New Orleans insurgency is being detained:
The Hurricane Katrina insurgency from New Orleans is tucked safely away behind the 6-foot chain link fence with the accommodating barb wire atop chain links. The ONLY entry into Detention Camp Utah is through the highly secure military gates that are guarded by armed military guards twenty four seven.

The ONLY access to the New Orleans insurgency is granted to military, government officials, and MAINSTREAM media . . . .

There is no transportation, public or otherwise, for the New Orleans insurgency. Supposedly, it has been reported by one local media concern that there will be twice-daily bus service available to "cleared" insurgents.

The armed military guards at the aforementioned closely guarded military gates would answer no questions regarding whether the New Orleans insurgency would be able to clear the gates to access the quickie mart, located down a rather steep hill about three miles from the Detention Camp Utah. Nor would the guards answer questions regarding whether they would allow the New Orleans insurgency to re-enter Detention Camp Utah if somehow they were able to gain an exit.
"How many other FEMA detention centers are being filled with hurricane/flood survivors?" asks Mr. Hawkins. We cannot say with any authority, but thanks to our venerated colleague Avedon Carol we know that there is at least one other: Falls Creek in Oklahoma, a youth camp for Southern Baptist churches that has leased its facilities to FEMA. The account below comes from a family that belongs to one of those churches and thus managed to talk their way past the state troopers at the front gate:
We then started lugging in our food products. The foods I had purchased were mainly snacks, but my mother - God bless her soul - had gone all out with fresh vegetables, fruits, canned goods, breakfast cereals, rice, and pancake fixings. That's when we got the next message: They will not be able to use the kitchen.

Excuse me? I asked incredulously.

FEMA will not allow any of the kitchen facilities in any of the cabins to be used by the occupants due to fire hazards. FEMA will deliver meals to the cabins. The refugees will be given two meals per day by FEMA. They will not be able to cook. In fact, the "host" goes on to explain, some churches had already enquired about whether they could come in on weekends and fix meals for the people staying in their cabin. FEMA won't allow it because there could be a situation where one cabin gets steaks and another gets hot dogs - and...

it could cause a riot.

It gets worse.

He then precedes to tell us that some churches had already enquired into whether they could send a van or bus on Sundays to pick up any occupants of their cabins who might be interested in attending church. FEMA will not allow this. The occupants of the camp cannot leave the camp for any reason. If they leave the camp they may never return. They will be issued FEMA identification cards and "a sum of money" and they will remain within the camp for the next 5 months.

My son looks at me and mumbles "Welcome to Krakow."

My mother then asked if the churches would be allowed to come to their cabin and conduct services if the occupants wanted to attend. The response was "No ma'am. You don't understand. Your church no longer owns this building. This building is now owned by FEMA and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. They have it for the next 5 months." This scares my mother who asks "Do you mean they have leased it?" The man replies, "Yes, ma'am...lock, stock and barrel. They have taken over everything that pertains to this facility for the next 5 months."

We then lug all food products requiring cooking back to the car. We start unloading our snacks. Mom appeared to have cornered the market in five counties on pop-tarts and apparently that was an acceptable snack so the guy started shoving them under the counter. He said these would be good to tide people over in between their two meals a day. But he tells my mother she must take all the breakfast cereal back. My mother protests that cereal requires no cooking. "There will be no milk, ma'am." My mother points to the huge industrial double-wide refrigerator the church had just purchased in the past year. "Ma'am, you don't understand...

It could cause a riot."

He then points to the vegetables and fruit. "You'll have to take that back as well. It looks like you've got about 10 apples there. I'm about to bring in 40 men. What would we do then?"

My mother, in her sweet, soft voice says, "Quarter them?"

"No ma'am. FEMA said no...

It could cause a riot. You don't understand the type of people that are about to come here...."

I turn and walk out of the room...lugging all the healthy stuff back to the car. My son later tells me the man went on to say "We've already been told of teenage girls delivering fetuses on buses." My son steps toward him and says "That's because they've almost been starved to death, haven't had a decent place to get a good night's sleep, and their bodies can't keep a baby alive. I'm not sure that's any evidence some one should be using to show these are 'bad people'."

We then went to the second dorm room and made up beds. When we got through and were headed outside the host says to me and my daughter, "How did you get in here?" I told him we came in through the back gate. He replies, "No, HOW did you get in here? No one who doesn't have credentials showing is supposed to be in here." (I had noticed all the "hosts" had two or three badges hanging around their necks.) I told him it might have had something to do with the fact my daughter was snapping pictures of the OHP presence at the gate. He then tells us, "Well, starting in the morning NO ONE comes in. So if you have further goods you want to donate you will have to take them to your local church. They will collect them until they have a full load and then bring them to the front gate."
Read the full account -- which is, by the way, profusely illustrated with photographs -- and wonder: why must the survivors of this awful catastrophe be kept from public view? Is is simply because they are, like the dead soldiers whose caskets arrive at Dover AFB under cover of darkness, an unfortunate reminder of failures best left unexamined? -- because their very presence among us, the loss and destitution written on their faces, would constitute a stinging, unanswerable rebuke to the callous, vicious, corrupt and (let us say it) murderous policies of the Bush administration?

Or do they have stories that the administration does not want told?

What stories will they have to tell when they leave Camp Williams and Falls Creek?

UPDATE: The Pryor Creek, OK, Daily Times reports that the Falls Creek operation has been put on hold -- for the time being:
"The good news is that it appears those who needed our help have been taken care of for now," Grimes explained. "We will scale back to a skeleton crew for now, but none of our facilities will be compromised. There will be troopers present 24 hours a day at Falls Creek as we evaluate the need on a 12, 24, 36 and 48 hour basis. Falls Creek has been and will continue to be ready within a 10 to 12 hour window in the event that the conference facility is still needed." While disappointment was evident on the faces of many, appreciation for the Falls Creek operation was recognized with a round of applause.
UPDATE II: Daily Kos diarist King Crab links to a Denver Post story on a third evacuee camp at the Community College of Aurora in Colorado:
There's a credentials unit to process every visitor, an intake unit to provide identification tags and a bag of clothes to every evacuee, several Salvation Army food stations, portable toilets, shuttle buses, a green army-tent chapel with church services three times a day and a communications team to keep reporters as far away from actual news as possible.
A Google News search on "evacuee camps" turns up hundreds of stories from dozens of locations. Coverage is for the most part upbeat and favorable, focusing on the gratitude of evacuees and the generosity of local residents who are pitching in to help. In most vicinities, it would seem, the relocation efforts are going as smoothly as could be expected.

But then there's this:
A file obtained by KSL Newsradio reveals extensive criminal histories with some of the Hurricane Katrina evacuees flown to Utah.

Background checks run by Utah law enforcement reveal seven murders, six sexual crimes, numerous armed robberies, a few batteries of police officers, and one kidnapping. In all, the file, not intended to be made public, lists 40 evacuees and their felony convictions. The list was compiled by law enforcement working with Utah's Joint Terrorism Task Force.

“We have identified some folks through our screening process. We’re watching them,” said Utah Highway Patrol Captain Robert Anderson who is in charge of security at Camp Williams, where the evacuees are staying.

A Utah Department of Public Safety spokesman objected to broadcasts concerning the criminal backgrounds, insisting all of the convicted felons had already served their jail and prison sentences and moved on in their lives. But, the file obtained by KSL Newsradio shows law enforcement were concerned enough about the past crimes to assemble a spreadsheet with names and felony convictions next to room and bed number assignments at the evacuees’ temporary home at Camp Williams.

One officer at the base responded to questions about the background checks by stating that those with the most violent criminal pasts had left Utah when transportation options became available in recent days. Conversations with several law enforcement officials revealed that while they were publicly saying the criminal backgrounds were not news worthy, they were quietly paying special attention to and tracking those evacuees with previous felony convictions . . . .

A Department of Public Safety spokesman made clear the vast majority of evacuees deserve sympathy not examination. He said the displaced residents are victims of a terrible disaster and Utahns have responded with overwhelming care and concern for them.
UPDATE III (via our indefatigable colleagues at Cursor): Restrictions on press access at Camp Williams must have eased somewhat, because Rose Aguilar of Stories in America has posted a series of interviews (here and here) with evacuees, many of whom had no idea they were bound for Utah until the plane had already taken off:
Everyone we met said the experience has been surreal, especially those who've never left New Orleans, but most are simply thankful they are safe. Camp Williams is housing over 500 evacuees, many of whom say they plan to start a new life in Utah. In addition to phone and computer services, the local Red Cross is offering doctors appointments, prescriptions, basic necessities, free bus passes and information on employment and housing . . . .

It should be noted that not one New Orleans resident I met at Camp Willims on Wednesday expressed anger for unkowingly being flown to Utah, a very different state than Louisiana. Every person I interviewed who plans to stay said they are eager to find work. Most made under $7/hour in New Orleans and said they are becoming restless without jobs.
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