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TESS VIGELAND: Levees around New Orleans are laboring mightily to hold in the aftermath of Hurricane Gustav. So far the Army Corps of Engineers says there’s no indication of levee failures, though water did overtop the Industrial Canal in West New Orleans, flooding some nearby streets.
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin warned residents to keep away from the city because of the ongoing threat of heavy rains. More than 2 million people evacuated the Gulf coastline, and many of them landed in shelters where they’re now being fed by the Southern Baptist Convention.
Mike Ebert is conducting the SBC’s disaster relief effort.
MIKE EBERT: We have feeding units that are stationed and operational right now at about nine different evacuation sites around the country. When we spoke to the American Red Cross late last week, they told us we needed to be prepared to make about 600,000 meals a day. Each of our kitchen units rolls in with a semi-trailer full of food, and then in partnership with the American Red Cross and FEMA the food keeps rolling in and replenishing our sites as we need it.
One of those feeding units, as Ebert called them, is stationed in Louisville, Ky. And that’s where we reached volunteer Coy Webb.
Coy Webb: We have somewhere around between 1,500 and 2,000 evacuees that have been brought from New Orleans in Louisville. The bulk of them have been flown in, and they’re currently being housed out at the Kentucky State Fairgrounds here in Louisville at the Expo Center. About half of the Expo Center just literally has a couple thousand cots lined up. The other half is divided out into several things. There’s a food line. There’s an area where folks can sit around tables and eat. There’s an area, cordoned off, where children can play, and where we have some Red Cross workers who are working with children. And then there’s several staging areas where they’re trying to sort luggage and get it to the right individuals and that type of thing, as well as just checking folks in.
VIGELAND: And how many meals are you expecting to provide? Do you have any idea how long you might be supporting this effort?
WEBB: They’ve asked us to provide 2,000 meals per meal today. We did a brief, a very small lunch. And then we’re doing a hot supper. And we’re going to do 2,000 meals for each of those. They have asked us to be prepared to at least serve through the weekend, and it could go longer, depending on the damage along the coastline and New Orleans and how long people have to be evacuated from their homes.
VIGELAND: Is this an effort that will be supported financially by governments, or is this something that the Southern Baptist Convention has planned for and has funding for.
WEBB: As far as the feeding, we do all that on our own. Southern Baptists provide all the equipment and we do all the training of volunteers. Red Cross is providing the food that we’re using. And so we have a long-term partnership with them, and we work together on this. Most typically, we do the food preparation for Red Cross and then they do the serving.
VIGELAND: What are you hearing from evacuees about their experience.
WEBB: Overall, it’s been very positive. Most of them are just thankful that they have a place that is safe and where they have food and shelter. Where they have shower capabilities. And, for the most part — though they hate to be away from their homes, and hate that they’re experiencing this again — most of them are pretty positive.
VIGELAND: Well, Coy Webb, thank you so much for your time today. And best of luck.
WEBB: Thank you, very much. We appreciate your support of everything.
Coy Webb is a volunteer organizer with the Southern Baptist Convention, which is feeding hurricane evacuees across the country.
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