Charlotte region offers help to evacuees

Local agencies said they're preparing to offer housing and other assistance to Gulf Coast residents who are headed to the Charlotte area as Hurricane Gustav barrels toward the mainland.

The American Red Cross could open a local shelter as early as today, said Pamela Jefsen, CEO of the Greater Carolinas chapter. She said the office received some calls over the weekend from people headed toward Charlotte. At least one family had arrived by Sunday evening and was staying with family and friends.

In the meantime, 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.

Jefsen said local organizers expect to see some people come to the area again, including those who have friends or family in the Charlotte area or who had heard of the shelters here which opened after Katrina. She said she did not think people would be put on buses or planes and evacuated to Charlotte, which occurred three years ago.

The Salvation Army of Greater Charlotte is ready to work with local churches to help evacuees, said Deronda Metz, director of social services. She said the group could serve up to 30 people, and if it exceeds that they would work with the Red Cross to open a shelter.

Leaders of some local congregations said they're on standby until they know what help is needed.

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 plans to sends its rapid-response team to the coast Tuesday, after the storm is expected to hit.

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.

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.”