Disaster officials from Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are saying preliminary estimates indicate that Hurricane Katrina may turn out to be the nation's most disastrous in terms of impact on residents and sheer destruction.
Though wind destruction is expected to be in the billions of dollars, it pales in comparison to the flooding that has inundated many areas of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Virtually the entire city of New Orleans is expected to be uninhabitable for weeks, possibly months to come.
Bladen County Emergency Services Director Mitchell Byrd, who is heading up the effort in Bladen, said, "It is important that we act quickly to help address the needs in the area."
To do this, his office has generated a list of items desperately needed in the ravaged area and has coordinated drop-off points throughout the county where the donations may be turned in. Byrd said the initial drive would go through Wednesday, September 7.
To assist in the effort, many organizations have offered their assistance in soliciting donations. Among those are the Bladen Baptist Association, the Bladen Ministerial Association and its affiliate churches, Bladen Crisis Assistance, Bladen County United Way and others.
Byrd said, in a Wednesday interview, that he welcomes the assistance of these organizations. He also praised the towns around the county for offering their town halls to be drop-off points for donations.
Byrd admitted that getting a drive of this magnitude up and running on such short notice takes coordination.
Byrd said that many people are volunteering their services to help out in the effort. Among those are volunteer firemen from throughout the county who will be involved, among other things, in packing and shipping of the materials.
"We've made arrangements for a driver with an 18-wheeler, who would like to leave around the end of next week, to take a load down there for us," Byrd said. "He's also said he would go back (to the Gulf Coast) if more (donations) comes in after the deadline. He said if the county collects more than one truck can take, he'll help find another truck and driver."
Byrd explained that two 18-wheelers had come to Bladen County in the aftermath of Hurricane Floyd to help after that storm.
"When we needed it, people from all over responded," Byrd said. "For example, one whole truckload to donations was sent here from Tennessee. This is the least we can do to help those folks, who in reality are much worse off than we were here in Bladen after Floyd."
Byrd said he has talked with emergency services personnel in the Gulf Coast area and that the efforts to help will be coordinated through them.
"Based on talking with donations management personnel in Mississippi and Alabama, we think that our list of supplies will meet their needs at this time," Byrd said.
The North Carolina Baptist Men have already organized a monumental effort to feed the hungry in the affected areas, according to Bladen Baptist Association Director of Missions Reverend Bruce Cannon.
The organization has been asked to provide resources and volunteers to feed 400,000 in the area. It has already sent many mobile kitchen units to the area for use in the feeding effort.
Cannon urged local residents to join in the countywide effort headed by Byrd.
"There are so many needs for so many people, even the best relief efforts are likely to fall short of filling the needs," said Cannon. "Anything we can do will help."
Bladenboro Town Manager Delane Jackson said donations are already piling in at his office.
"We've already got about a pick-up load of items here at the Town Hall in Bladenboro," said Jackson on Wednesday. "We know from firsthand experience how difficult it can be. When Hurricane Floyd hit, we here in Bladenboro got assistance from as far away as Tennessee.
"So whenever others are struck by disaster, we feel like this is the very least we can do," he said.
The Board of Education has also joined in the effort, according to Cannon. The various schools, the bus garage and other school entities are on board in the effort.
White Lake Town Clerk Brenda Clark said that town is making an all-out effort to garner support for the relief effort as well. She asked that people make sure they bring items for the effort to the Town Hall during business hours.
"We wouldn't want supplies to be left outside and get damaged or destroyed," said Clark. "We encourage people to drop their donations off during business hours so we can make sure they are safe."
Among the items needed are: bottled water, canned goods, flashlights, baby wipes, buckets, cleaning supplies, paper towels, toiletry items (male and female), baby food, plastic utensils, plastic/paper plates, gloves, can openers, batteries, pampers, brooms, mops, toilet paper, first aid supplies, Clorox, Kleenex tissue, Anti-bacterial soap, toys and games for children, mosquito repellant, and "other items you think they may need."
Items may be dropped off at the following locations:
* Bladen County Emergency Management Office (basement of the courthouse);
* Bladenboro Town Hall;
* East Arcadia Town Hall;
* Dublin Town Hall;
* Clarkton Town Hall;
* Elizabethtown Town Hall;
* White Lake Town Hall; and
* Bladen Baptist Association office on Mercer Mill Road in Elizabethtown.
* Bladen County United Way located behind the King Street Gym on Morehead St. in Elizabethtown.
* The Movie Gallery at 1106B West Seaboard St. in Bladenboro.
For people who would prefer to donate money, Byrd strongly urged that donations be made to the American Red Cross, which is the lead agency in disbursement of supplies.
The Bladen Ministerial Association is also taking donations that will be pooled together and sent to the relief organizations in the disaster area. To donate through this fund, send donations to P.O. Box 1227, Elizabethtown, NC 28337.
"The Red Cross has always been there when folks need them," said Byrd.
He said he also has people ready to help if an organization needs to have donations transported to the collection site.
To coordinate to get transportation of materials to a collection site, call Byrd's office at 862-6760.
The materials will be collected at the sites and will be carried to the old Cape Craft Building in Elizabethtown where it will be palletized for shipment.
"We want to try to make equal drop-offs in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana," Byrd said.
He added that he is especially grateful for the support he is getting from throughout the county.
"I personally want to thank each of the towns for stepping forward and agreeing to be drop-off points for the effort," said Byrd. "This gives us locations throughout the county where people can drop off donations-east, west, south and west. I also want to thank all these organizations that have stepped forward to help out.
"We were fortunate to have had folks across the country help us in our hour of need," Byrd said. "This is the least we can do to help others in their time of need.
"Who knows, we could be next," he added, "and we'd need folks to step forward to help us."