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Center established at Red Cross to assist Katrina evacuees

Evacuees from Hurricane Katrina who have made it to Western New York now have a central place to seek help as they recover from the storm that has displaced hundreds of thousands.

The American Red Cross offices on Delaware Avenue opened the resource center for Katrina evacuees Monday.

About 22 people had arrived at the center by noon, according to Judith Rucki, Red Cross director of communications. She estimated that, in total, about 90 people so far have received help through the local Red Cross.

Representatives of Catholic Charities, the Salvation Army, Buffalo Public Schools, the Urban League and the county Health, Mental Health and Social Services departments were set up at tables to help link evacuees with their needs.

"We're going to be doing this indefinitely," Rucki said. "As long as the need is there, we'll be here." The center will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The greatest needs seemed to be the most basic: food, clothing and shelter.

Willie Philips, 42, said she and her 14-year-old son have been living at a friend's place here. "She's embraced me as family," she said. "We're blessed."

But she feels she's imposing and wants fo find her own place.

"I'm staying with a lady who's a friend of mine, but she's in a one-bedroom place, and it's senior citizen housing," she said. "I want to see social services about getting a house or an apartment."

Marquise Perkins said he believes his apartment in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward remains underwater.

"My truck is definitely gone," said Perkins, 27, a self-employed welder. "I just bought a brand-new big-screen TV. It's gone."

He recalled that, two days before the hurricane hit, while on a plane returning to New Orleans from a family wedding in Rochester, he began hearing dire predictions for his home city. He kept his bags packed and headed for friends in Columbus, Miss.

"With hurricanes coming in the past, we'd take a couple of things and leave, and then we'd come back, rake some leaves and fix some windows," Perkins said. "It's not like your house is gone."

He was disappointed that evacuees here weren't receiving the $2,000 payments some evacuees in Baton Rouge had received.

"As far as I can see, they're not giving it to us," he said. "They've given us $100. What am I going to do with $100?"

Annie Williams, 81, had moved into her home in Waveland, Miss., in 1970, after Hurricane Camille destroyed her previous home.

"There's nothing left," she said. "It [Katrina] destroyed the home. There was nothing left standing but the shell."

She is staying with her daughters, Karen and Gwen, in Buffalo.

Some of the evacuees at the Red Cross were expected to go People Inc., the not-for-profit agency that serves Western New Yorkers with special needs.

In a joint effort with Gethsemane Grape Street Baptist Church, the agency was working with evacuees who need work.

"We have positions open in residential services and in our day rehabilitation programs," said Kevin Horrigan, People Inc. spokesman.

"Once we find out about these applicants, and whether they have the skill set or the interest, our goal is to try to fit them in as best as we can in our organization," he said.

e-mail: jbonfatti@buffnews.com

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