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Fort Ritchie should open doors to Katrina's victims

September 08, 2005

Could the old Fort Ritchie Army base be used to house some of the victims of Hurricane Katrina?

We say "yes." It won't be as easy as opening a few doors, but it's a good facility, for a number of reasons.

The first is that there is space for children at Cascade Elementary School, which has been kept open despite low enrollment in the hopes that redevelopment of the base would bring more families and students.

The base also has vacant housing units, some of which are in need of repair. We're not advocating putting anyone in an unsafe dwelling, but making some of these units livable, if not luxurious, shouldn't be an insurmountable task.

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If Habitat for Humanity can "blitz build" a house in one day, a hurry-up effort should be able to put some of these old units back into service in a matter of days or weeks.

The first logical step should be to make contact with the Federal Emergency Management Administration, also known as FEMA.

FEMA should be able to tell officials of the PenMar Development Corp. whether there are grants available for the renovation work, or better yet, FEMA personnel who are willing to assist and direct renovation efforts.

Once FEMA approval is obtained, then PenMar can begin seeking donations of building materials and skilled labor to do whatever renovations are needed.

As for food and medicine, we're confident that local churches and nonprofits will step up and create a food bank there.

As for medical care, some volunteers from the Community Free Clinic could spend some time at Fort Ritchie, making sure dislocation is the most serious problem victims face.

We understand PenMar board members' reluctance to jump into this quickly. Somebody has to pay the bills for all the care and shelter that will be provided.

But if Washington County had been hit with some natural disaster - a tornado, perhaps - other communities would step up to help this area's people.

Now it's Washington County's turn. Local people are generous when someone is burned out of their house or needs to raise money for an operation.

The people in trouble now may not be county residents, but they still deserve the same help local people would get if they were in need.

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