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Relief Agencies Expect - and Encounter - Some Bumps on the Road to Recovery

By Marisa Navarro
Capital News Service
Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2003

WASHINGTON - The state government opened three disaster recovery centers Tuesday to help Maryland residents affected apply for government assistance.

Someone, however, forgot to tell the Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency about a planned fourth center in Prince George's County.

"No, I only know about three centers," said Berton Blumenfeld, a government liaison officer for the American Red Cross who traveled from New Mexico to assist in the recovery efforts. "I guess I'm expecting a call."

FEMA spokeswoman Crystal Patton also said her agency was not aware of a fourth center.

With the recovery process in full swing, agencies are discovering that organizing efforts can be a bumpy process -- something that disaster-relief pros said can be expected.

"This is a situation where things are happening so fast," said Norris West, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Human Resources. "It's been so busy. It's hard to nail things as originally planned."

Three of the four centers did open as scheduled, at 1 p.m. Tuesday. Besides offering FEMA and Red Cross representatives, those centers -- at 724 St. Ann St. in Baltimore, at 44 Calvert St. in Annapolis near St. John's College and at 801 Back River Neck Road in Essex -- also have a catalog of other agencies residents can turn to for help, including the Maryland Insurance Administration and the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

But in a Monday news release, the Human Resources Department said it was helping plan the opening of four disaster recovery sites that would be up and running by Tuesday afternoon. As late as 11 a.m. Tuesday, officials were confident that the suburban Washington center would open as scheduled, even though they still had not found a site for it.

By Tuesday afternoon, FEMA had taken the lead in organizing the centers.

Patton said the agency hoped to announce the location of the Washington-area center -- which would serve residents of Prince George's and Montgomery counties -- sometime Tuesday night. In the meantime, Montgomery and Prince George's county residents who need assistance can call the Red Cross at 1-866-GET-INFO.

The Department of Human Resources also had said that it would open a total of 14 centers throughout the state by the end of the week and that by Monday it would have seven mobile centers running.

West said Tuesday, however, that FEMA, the Red Cross and his agency might scale back on the original plan.

For some, such missteps are to be expected in the recovery effort. Blumenfeld has been to more than 40 disaster areas on behalf of the Red Cross and said that the state should be proud of its efforts.

"Maryland is getting the job done," he said. "That makes what we have to do easier."

Copyright 2003 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism

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