September 9, 2005

Governor and Senator tour "Town Pickett"

By Maj. Cotton Puryear
Army Guard Public Affairs Officer


Virginia Governor Mark Warner greets some local Blackstone school children that were assisting with the set up of the education center at "Town Pickett." Governor Warner toured the facilities along with Senator John Warner. (Photo Maj. Cotton Puryear, Virginia Guard Public Affairs Office)

BLACKSTONE, Va. -- Governor Mark R. Warner and U.S. Senator John Warner today saw first hand the efforts to transform Fort Pickett into “Town Pickett” in order to provide services and sheltering for people displaced from the Gulf Coast by Hurricane Katrina. Facilities on Fort Pickett as well as at Blackstone’s Virginia United Methodist Assembly Center (VUMAC) have been readied to provide support when the call comes from the federal government.

“A lot of state and local employees and other volunteers have worked marathon hours to prepare this site for the eventual arrival of evacuees from the Gulf Coast,” said Governor Warner.  “Fort Pickett and the Virginia United Methodist Assembly Center are ready to take in 1,400 evacuees immediately, and more than 1,600 other beds have been identified around the Commonwealth as the need arises. From medical care to counseling to helping people find a job, these companion facilities are designed for the next phase of this disaster: quality shelter until people can decide how, when, and where to move on with their lives.”

Governor Warner repeated comments made by Senator Warner that these efforts show “the best examples of the American Spirit we have seen in a long time.” He added, “I am very proud of how the Commonwealth has responded. The state has stepped up in an unprecedented fashion. We are all pulling together, whether civilian or military, to do our part. It is absolutely remarkable how quickly this has been put together.”

The exact time frame that evacuees will arrive is not certain at this time, Governor Warner explained. He said the Federal Emergency Management Agency is developing a timeline for when and where the displaced citizens will be moved, and Virginia stands ready to respond once the call from FEMA arrives. “We made it clear to FEMA that we are ready,” he said.

It is also not certain just how long anyone will be staying in the Blackstone area, Governor Warner said. He explained that the services in the Blackstone area are meant to be temporary until longer term arrangements can be provided.

Besides the support provided for those in need, the operations underway are important to prepare for the future, Senator Warner said. “This could happen again,” he said. “We have to learn from this and make sure we can do better.”

Senator Warner praised the efforts of both civilian and military response. “We are showing our care, love and compassion,” he said. “Virginia stands tall when it comes to a crisis like this. The men and women of the Armed Forces are shouldering a heavy responsibility.”

Governor Warner and Senator Warner, along with Maj. Gen. Claude Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia, toured the facilities at Fort Pickett and met with the volunteers from the Red Cross and other agencies that are operating the facilities. They saw first hand how in less than 48 hours, Fort Pickett  was transformed to “Town Pickett” and organized in a "one-stop shopping" service scenario. The area provides housing, restroom and shower facilities, food service, health services, crisis counseling, and access to a series of government services that can help up to a thousand displaced people begin to rebuild their lives. VUMAC is prepared to house an additional 400 people. Virginia is working directly with federal and state officials to direct evacuees to these facilities for shelter.

"Virginians' generous offers of assistance continue to pour into federal, state, and local relief agencies and charities," said Governor Warner.  "The act of charity most likely to make a difference at this point is still to make a make a monetary donation to the Red Cross, Salvation Army, or another reputable charity or disaster relief fund.

Fort Pickett and the VUMAC are not set up to accept donated goods at this time. Individuals who travel to Fort Pickett with donated goods will instead be redirected to the nearest Red Cross, Goodwill, Salvation Army, or another local charity that accepts donated goods

Individuals willing to shelter families in their homes should also not go to Fort Pickett or the VUMAC. Neither facility is set up to accept individual offers of shelters and will not be able to help well-meaning individuals who travel to either facility to offer their homes as shelter. Individuals wishing to provide shelter in their homes for evacuees should continue to work with a local-faith based organization, or wait until a specific call is put out for more offers of housing.

More than a thousand people evacuated from the hurricane-affected areas are believed to be sheltered in Virginia at this point, with relatives, friends, and in hotels. If they need medical care, assistance, government services - or a new place to get shelter -- they should consider coming to Fort Pickett to access all of these services in one place.

The Governor has requested a Presidential disaster declaration to assist with Virginia's relief effort.

In addition to preparing to shelter evacuees, Virginia has deployed or readied significant additional hurricane relief resources:

  • Virginia National Guard:  225 National Guard personnel have arrived in Jackson, Mississippi. 152 Guard officers and 29 air personnel, mainly military police, arrived on September 5 in Alexandria, Louisiana
  • Governor's Office:  Chief of Staff Bill Leighty and Policy Aide Ryan Childress remain in Baton Rouge, providing assistance to the Louisiana Governor's Office and Louisiana Emergency Operations Center, helping coordinate state-to-state relief offers, especially firefighting teams.
  • Virginia Department of Forestry:  64 personnel are deployed in Louisiana and Mississippi.
  • Virginia State Police:  Helicopter equipped with a hoist, staffed by two pilots, is now en route back to Virginia.  Additionally, 100 state troopers are ready to deploy as needed.
  • Virginia Information Technologies Agency:  Continues to build out infrastructure in the Fort Pickett facility.  This includes network access, cell coverage, and access to computer equipment.  
  • Virginia Department of Social Services:  Coordinating faith-based groups' offers of housing, food, or transportation for evacuated people.  190 state and local Social Services employees are on standby to serve either in Virginia or in the impacted region if called upon.
  • Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development:  Tasked with matching families and available housing in the communities.
  • The American Red Cross:  Virginia chapters have 684 open cases and have assisted 1,539 individuals.  The largest concentrations of evacuated people are in Hampton Roads, Fredericksburg, and Richmond. No Red Cross shelters are open in Virginia.
  • Virginia Public Inquiry Center:  Open to answer questions and field concerns from citizens. The toll-free VPIC telephone number is 1-866-880-4288, hours of operation this week  - 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Commonwealth of Virginia Campaign:  Virginia state employees can provide financial support through the Commonwealth of Virginia Campaign (CVC), the authorized workplace giving campaign for the state workforce. The participating CVC charities designated to receive employee contributions for this disaster are the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army.


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