Portales opens doors to hurricane victims

By Melanie Salazar: Freedom Newspapers

With Hurricane Katrina forcing thousands of evacuations from the Gulf Coast area every day, Portales will soon be doing its part to help.

The New Mexico Department of Emergency Management and Federal Emergency Management Agency recently requested assistance from communities around the world to provide short and long-term housing for the hurricane victims. With New Mexico opening its doors to 15,000 displaced victims of Hurricane Katrina, Portales can expect to see a few new faces as well, as some victims could be arriving in Portales as early as next week, according to Portales City Manager Debi Lee.

The City of Portales is currently taking inventory to see just how many people its facilities can hold. Emergency Preparedness Director, Capt. Chuck Haman of the Portales Fire Department, guessed there would be at least 100 people coming to the city.

“Hopefully we can keep them as comfortable as possible and house as many as we can,” he said.

While the first step in Portales’ efforts is to find housing for the victims, the city will be working with the New Mexico Emergency Preparedness Office to assist them with other needs, including possible long-term housing.

Portales Mayor Orlando Ortega said right now, the focus is to get the victims back into an everyday life, providing all levels of education to displaced children, as well as possible job opportunities to some.

“These people will be displaced for a long period of time,” Ortega said. “They may even look at Portales becoming their home. There could be all kinds of possibilities for these folks.”

Though the victims could be arriving in days, Haman said there isn’t too much Portales residents can do just yet other than make donations to local charities and food banks.

“On a local aspect right now, there isn’t a whole lot for our citizens to do,” Haman said. “But as soon as we get these folks into our town, I’m sure there will be plenty.”

In the future, Haman said they will probably be looking for volunteers to assist with preparing and serving meals, as well as clothing donations for the stranded victims.

Although the state is currently seeking group homes, Haman said there is the possibility citizens would be able to open their homes to house victims as well.

“The state would rather house them all together instead of split them up, he said. “But there will be efforts to house folks in homes for individuals that would rather do that.”

Ortega said it’s just important for Portales to welcome the victims with open arms.

“I encourage citizens in Portales and Roosevelt County to participate in whatever means possible as we are called upon by the State and FEMA office to assist these individuals surviving this catastrophic event,” Ortega said. “This is a time in our history where we as Americans need to help our fellow citizens and neighbors.”

Anyone who can assist with the shelters and have a facility to support the need can call a voice mail set up for Haman at 356-6662, ext. 25. Those interested in opening their homes to victims can also call the New Mexico Disaster Relief Line at (866) 638-6819.