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Hundreds Seek Training to Help Hurricane Evacuees

Times Staff Writer

When Pasadena resident Marv Kreider saw the images of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, her heart broke.

Kreider, 47, who runs a bookkeeping and real state investment business, said that she felt “Our first responsibility is not just to say, ‘Oh poor things,’ but, ‘I want to participate.’ ”

She can now do just that after a fast-track training session by the American Red Cross this weekend in Azusa.

Kreider was among 1,500 people who signed up for training at Azusa Pacific University so they could help evacuees at shelters and respond quickly to disasters in the future.

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The session, organized especially to prepare volunteer workers to go to the Gulf Coast, was taught by the San Gabriel Valley chapter of the American Red Cross and was one of the largest of its type in the country, officials said.

Before Katrina hit, the San Gabriel Valley chapter was holding training sessions three times a month and attracting 10 to 15 volunteers for each class.

Now, so many people are asking to be trained that the chapter has increased sessions to twice a week and called the university to see if it could help organize a massive seminar on campus.

“The need is so great that we’re getting people out there as soon as we can,” said Jeremy Schlittenhart, a chapter spokesman. “After they’re trained today, they can be sent out three to four days from now.”

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Schlittenhart said his chapter has sent more than 100 volunteers to the Gulf Coast. Red Cross chapters in California aim to send about 125 volunteers a day to the hurricane area, where they could stay for up to three weeks.

“Some people don’t have the opportunity to get up and go because they have to take care of family requirements or whatever,” Kreider said. “But I could.”

The Red Cross has condensed weeklong courses into two days and waived some requirements, such as CPR training, to get the volunteers out as soon as possible.

On Sunday, volunteers filled the bleachers around the school’s basketball court and listened as Red Cross officials explained shelter operations. Included was information on helping evacuees fill out registration forms, referring to evacuees as clients, not victims, and making daily inspections of kitchens, sleeping areas and other parts of a shelter.

About a third of the volunteers were students, faculty and staff from Azusa Pacific. The school has released students from classes for nine-day stints and plans to send groups of up to 100 at different times, said Terry Franson, senior vice president for student life.

“We opened as a training school for Christian workers 100 years ago,” Franson said. But in the 30 years he has worked at the university, “there has not been a time like now to step up,” he added.

The training is not just relevant to Katrina; it can help those affected by a local disaster, Franson said.

“Think about the big earthquake,” he said. “This is the kind of mass mobilization for an earthquake in L.A. that they would have to do.”

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Azusa Pacific senior Tiffany Porter, 21, said she has her bags packed so she can leave at any time. Porter grew up in nearby Ontario, but her aunts and cousins were living in New Orleans. They made it to a shelter in Homer, three miles from their submerged hometown.

“I’m in a place where I can help,” Porter said. “I just feel like I have an obligation to go.... Catching up on one week of schoolwork is totally worth it.”

Libby Palaganas, 39, an emergency room nurse who lives in La Canada Flintridge, said she wanted to offer some of her specialized expertise to help those affected by Katrina.

Seeing images of the hurricane in the news made her start thinking about an earthquake she experienced in the Philippines in 1989.

She made it out of a wobbling building, but 15 of her friends didn’t.

“One way for me to give back is to do this, to serve the American people,” said Palaganas, who has lived in the United States for about 15 years. “I’m willing to work anywhere I’m needed.”

Edward Santoya, 60, of Chino said he hates it when people just go on with business as usual after a disaster. Santoya contacted the Red Cross in Louisiana to find out where he could get training locally.

It has been more than a week since he first had the idea to go to Louisiana, and he was feeling a little antsy just sitting in a darkened room watching videos.

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“I’m just waiting for them to call me so I can buy my sleeping bag,” said Santoya, who has worked as a state correctional officer and has been taking courses toward a degree in criminology.

Anna Emerald, 36, said she can’t leave immediately but is working on making time for a trip later. In the meantime, she hopes to take more Red Cross courses, such as first aid or cardiopulmonary resuscitation, so she has more skills to offer.

Emerald said she came to the weekend’s training sessions because she wasn’t satisfied with the government’s response to the tragedy. She wanted to pitch in and help at the shelters.

“It’s really going to take a very long time for things to get back to normal” in Mississippi and Louisiana, she said.

“We can’t forget the victims of Katrina.”


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