Maxwell officials provide shelter for Gustav evacuees

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- When Hurricane Gustav made landfall early Sept. 1 along the Louisiana coast, 658 individuals from the Gulf Coast region were safely out of harm's way in temporary facilities here.

Maxwell Air Force Base is a designated National Logistical Support Area for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and people and pets found safe harbor at the south central Alabama base over the Labor Day weekend. The base remained open as a safe haven until evacuated areas were officially reopened Sept. 3.

Members of the Maxwell community reacted to the effects of the Category 2 storm long before it made landfall. The evacuee reception center stood up early Aug. 31, and those who arrived at Maxwell before its opening were given shelter and food.

"With less than 24 hours notice, we were able to provide four times the normal number of meals at our dining facilities," said Sandra Kobelia, deputy director of the 42nd Services Division.

Officials at the reception center placed 34 evacuees in the homes of volunteers on and off base, and only a handful of people were placed in the base shelters.

"At the peak, we had evacuees in lodging and airmen dormitories, and the shelters were the last means," said Maj. Kathryn Brown, chief of the 42nd Services Division.

Staff members from the 42nd Services Division and the Airman and Family Readiness Center established the evacuee reception center to coordinate shelter. Medical assistance and personal counseling were also available there.

Col. Jim Spence, a retired Marine pilot who lives in New Orleans, evacuated to Maxwell Aug. 30 with his wife and 90-year-old mother. They were immediately placed in a lodging room.

"We really couldn't be more pleased with our stay here," he said. "The staff has been courteous, professional and very attentive across the board. We are kind of vagabonds at the moment, but I want to emphasize the good treatment and courtesy we are receiving here."

Twenty-six families volunteered to open their homes to evacuees, said John Harris of Maxwell's Airman and Family Readiness Center. "Our first adopted family was in place at 3 [p.m.] on Sunday."

There also were arrangements for evacuating pets at the base veterinary clinic.

People from several government agencies involved in the main FEMA distribution site worked out of Maxwell. These agencies included the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Forest Service, the Alabama Emergency Management Agency and the Alabama National Guard. Officials with Homeland Security Protective Services and members of Headquarters 2nd Air Force were in evacuation status and continued operations out of Maxwell into Sept. 2, according to Senior Master Sgt. Henderson, Maxwell's FEMA liaison.

With three new tropical storms stacked up in the Atlantic and headed west -- Hanna, Ike and Josephine -- officials at Maxwell continue to remain vigilant.