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PenMar offering shelter to evacuees

September 13, 2005|by TARA REILLY

CASCADE

tarar@herald-mail.com

Eight apartments at the former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base will be available for Gulf Coast families forced to leave their homes as a result of Hurricane Katrina.

The PenMar Development Corp.'s board of directors voted Monday morning to offer the two-bedroom apartments to evacuees in a coordinated effort with federal, state and local authorities.

PenMar also plans to turn to area churches for help with finding food, transportation, clothing and other necessities for the displaced families.

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"These folks have gone through a traumatic experience," said Washington County Commissioner Doris J. Nipps, who attended the PenMar meeting Monday. "I think they're going to need a lot of support from this community."

PenMar board member Phil Ulzheimer recommended that PenMar give each of the eight families $10,000 to purchase a used car, so they wouldn't be stuck at the isolated base without transportation.

The board members, however, said they needed time to discuss whether it would be necessary for PenMar to offer financial assistance.

PenMar was created by the state in 1997 to redevelop the approximately 630-acre base, which the Army shut down in 1998.

The agency plans to examine whether other buildings on the base, many of which have been vacant since 1998 and require upgrades, could eventually be made available for additional evacuees.

PenMar Executive Director Rich Rook showed slides of housing units in which mold is visible on the walls and carpets.

Other buildings contain lead paint, and sections of water pipes are missing from the plumbing, Rook said.

The 22-room guest house, vacant for eight years, lacks a kitchen and requires other upgrades, he said.

The eight apartments being offered are the only vacant units in livable condition, PenMar officials said.

Nipps said the county's Division of Emergency Services is looking into whether Venice Inn could be used to temporarily house more evacuees.

They would stay there until permanent homes in the area are found for the Gulf Coast residents, she said.

Emergency Services Director Joe Kroboth and County Administrator Rodney Shoop said by phone Monday that the Venice Inn was just one temporary housing option being considered.

Kroboth said the county has not yet had any formal discussions with Venice Inn.

Venice Inn did not return a phone call Monday.

Kroboth and Shoop said the county is waiting to find out how many evacuees it will receive before any final decisions about living arrangements are made. They said they probably would have more details today.

Shoop said evacuees who come to Washington County most likely would be here permanently.

"We're not talking about just to stay here a few months," Shoop said. "We're talking about a permanent relocation into our area."

PenMar board member Mark DiLandro opposed opening the base to Gulf Coast evacuees.

DiLandro said he might sound like the "cold-hearted" board member, but he warned that PenMar would ultimately be responsible for the evacuees.

He said he didn't think PenMar could count on receiving help from outside agencies and that the base's isolated location and lack of transportation for the evacuees would make it hard for them to seek medical care, go grocery shopping and other basics.

The One Mountain Foundation, a group of residents from Cascade and surrounding areas, is coordinating an effort for PenMar to find local churches to help the evacuees.

Gary Muller, chairman of One Mountain Foundation, said such help might consist of churches sponsoring families to make sure they have the necessities to get back on their feet.

Muller said he's spoken with several churches that are willing to assist. He plans to contact additional churches in the Hagerstown and Waynesboro, Pa., areas for assistance.

"We're just going to try to get the ball rolling," Muller said.




How to register for assistance



Evacuees from Hurricane Katrina who have come to shelters in Maryland may register for disaster assistance by telephone or online from wherever they are staying, federal and state disaster officials said. They do not have to be in their home states to register.

The Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency can take disaster registrations toll-free at 1-800-621-3362 or 1-800-462-7585 (TTY) for the hearing impaired, or online at www.fema.gov., said Patricia Arcuri, acting director of FEMA Region III, which covers the District of Columbia, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.

The toll-free telephone numbers will remain open 24 hours a day, seven days a week until further notice.

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