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Gustav shelter to open Tuesday

With evacuees from Hurricane Gustav trickling into the Charlotte area today, relief officials say they'll open a shelter at Victory Christian Center in south Charlotte Tuesday.

So far 21 people have contacted the Salvation Army and American Red Cross saying they'll need a place to stay. The Salvation Army of Greater Charlotte can house up to 30 in partner churches, though officials were having a hard time reaching anyone from those churches on Labor Day.

But all have found a place to stay tonight, said Deronda Metz of the Salvation Army and Pamela Jefsen of the Greater Carolinas chapter of the American Red Cross. They'll keep monitoring for the next few days to see if a shelter is needed.

“People are good for tonight,” said Jefsen, the Red Cross chapter's CEO. “Thirty is kind of a magic number. If we get beyond 30, we'll open a shelter.”

North Carolina has not been designated an evacuation site by Gulf Coast emergency officials. People coming here are doing so on their own – including some who took shelter here after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and nearby areas three years ago, Metz said.

Gustav weakened and veered away from New Orleans overnight, but the massive evacuation had already begun over the weekend. And while officials say they hope to avoid the deaths that Hurricane Katrina caused three years ago, they still expects extensive flooding and damage to homes.

This evening relief officials decided to start setting up a shelter, anticipating more arrivals. The Red Cross should be ready to start taking people by noon Tuesday at the Victory Christian Center campus, 7224 Old Pineville Road.

Volunteers from the Charlotte region and beyond are heading down to the Gulf Coast to help out. They include a trio who was set to leave Kings Mountain this morning with a mobile kitchen that will be run by the N.C. Baptist Men, an auxiliary of the Baptist State Convention. Several other groups say they're waiting to see what the need is before heading toward the coast.

After Hurricane Katrina three years ago, thousands of Gulf Coast residents headed to the Carolinas where temporary housing was set up at sites throughout the region, including the old Charlotte Coliseum.

Pastor James Howell of Myers Park United Methodist Church said his church is prepared to send a contingent of volunteers to the Gulf Coast states. They would likely go to three communities they have volunteered with in the past, but could also assist other areas.

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan's Purse sent a team to the coast today.

N.C. Baptist Men could eventually send about 40 to 50 people to run its mobile kitchen. Lawrence Bolin of Bessemer City planned to drive the equipment down with two other people today, and arrive in Talladega, Ala., around noon. From there, the group could move to Mississippi or Louisiana to provide food to residents still in the area. A busload of more than 40 volunteers will leave from Charlotte Wednesday to staff the kitchen.

The Red Cross also has a team of volunteers ready to go. Brunetta Franklin left for Shreveport, La., on Sunday. “You don't think about the natural disaster that's coming; you focus more on the people you're there to help,” Franklin told WCNC, the Observer's news partner. “Giving back to people, that's the main thing.”