Gov. Mike Huckabee on Wednesday morning signed an emergency proclamation that will allow additional state assistance for emergency shelters in Ashley, Chicot, Clark, Cross, Craighead, Crittenden, Desha, Drew, Faulkner, Garland, Mississippi, Miller, Pulaski and Union counties. Thousands of Mississippi and Louisiana residents fled to Arkansas in advance of Hurricane Katrina.
"Given the flooding, especially in the New Orleans area, many of these evacuees will be here for weeks, maybe even months," the governor said. "We want to do everything in our power to make life easier for these people." The governor's emergency proclamation authorizes $75,000 for the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management to use at the shelters. Huckabee also said the Department of Emergency Management has activated its emergency operations center to coordinate state efforts to deal with the crisis.
In addition, Huckabee on Wednesday morning announced that almost 500 additional members of the Arkansas National Guard will be activated to provide support to Louisiana. The National Guard already has seven trucks on the way to New Orleans. Those vehicles and 15 personnel departed Tuesday night from the Army National Guard Readiness Center at Hazen. The National Guard has opened the Searcy Readiness Center and the Crossett Readiness Center to shelter evacuees. The Monticello Readiness Center, which opened Sunday, remains available. Cots and blankets also have been supplied by the National Guard to shelters at West Memphis, Lake Village and Hot Springs.
Elements of the 61st Civil Support Team already are providing communications support to the Louisiana Air National Guard. About 350 members of the Arkansas National Guard were activated earlier in the week and have already been sent to Mississippi. This force consists of engineers, military police, transportation specialists, medical specialists and maintenance support personnel. They will stage out of Camp Shelby near Hattiesburg, Miss. Two Arkansas National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters also have been sent to Mississippi.
Huckabee estimated there were about 75 evacuees at a Crossett shelter last night, more than 100 people at various shelters in Chicot County, 150 people at a shelter in Arkadelphia, 100 people at a shelter in West Memphis, several hundred people at various shelters in Desha County, 80 people at a shelter in Monticello, 150 people at the Hot Springs Civic and Convention Center, 50 people at the Pine Bluff Convention Center, several dozen people at Texarkana, 35 people at a shelter in Camden, more than 200 people at the Arkansas State Fairgrounds in Little Rock and more than 100 people at various shelters in Union County.
Hotels and motels across south Arkansas remain full, but many of the evacuees are running out of money. "We expect the numbers to grow," the governor said of people in the emergency shelters.
Huckabee said the state Department of Parks and Tourism is using the state visitors' centers at El Dorado, Texarkana, Lake Village and Helena to direct evacuees to shelters and places with remaining motel and hotel rooms. Arkansas state parks personnel have been authorized to offer discounts to evacuees. The pet prohibition in cabins and lodges at state parks has been waived for those who fled the storm.
"Just as an example, we have a family of 26 from New Orleans using seven of the cabins at Lake Chicot State Park," Huckabee said. "The staff at all of our state parks are contacting Arkansans who had made reservations for the Labor Day weekend to see if they'll give up their rooms, cabins and camping spots to those from Louisiana and Mississippi who already are in them."* Earlier in the week, Huckabee dispatched extra state troopers to south Arkansas to assist the evacuees. Those troopers remain on duty until further notice.
Huckabee said the state Department of Health and Human Services has partnered with the Department of Emergency Management and the Arkansas Pharmacists Association to provide evacuees with emergency supplies of prescription drugs and access to dialysis machines. The state is asking the staff in health clinics to volunteer for out-of-state assignments and is seeking permission from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide food stamps to hurricane victims.
Local health units also are providing tetanus-diphtheria shots to evacuees and emergency workers, the governor said. Huckabee also announced that special relief is available for taxpayers from the areas affected by the storm. Taxpayers from the disaster areas generally will have until Oct. 31 to file state income and excise tax returns and submit tax payments. This relief includes the Sept. 15 due date for estimated taxes and for calendar-year corporate returns with automatic extensions.