October 26, 2007

There’s help and fire information available in Spanish

Officials and community groups have set-up resources for Latinos

By Pablo Jaime Sáinz

When authorities and health officials started advising people to stay indoors because of the respiratory hazards due to the fires, the Yañez family didn’t know where to go.

The family of five, including three children under 18, is homeless in Chula Vista.

If not having a place to stay and spend the night was a problem, the wild fires that have pounded the county since Sunday made the Yañez family’s situation even worse.

“We needed a place to stay, quickly, more than anything because for the health of the children,” said mother Marisela Yañez.

So when she heard on a Spanish-language radio station that the City of Chula Vista had opened a shelter for evacuees at Chula Vista High School, she and her family headed there to spend the night.

There they were received and helped by Spanish-speaking volunteers, who offered them beds and blankets, food, and a place to stay indoors during the harsh air conditions outside.

“I wasn’t expecting to receive so much help,” said Marisela, who added that she was able to get all information about the fires in Spanish at the shelter.

Like Marisela, many Latinos were affected, at different levels, by this week’s wild fires that have covered the county from Potrero in the eastern part to Camp Pendletton up north.

And to meet the needs of the Spanish-speaking community, authorities have set up information lines and websites in Spanish to inform the Latino community about evacuations, health hazards, road and school closures, and other essential information during the disasters.

The County of San Diego has a hotline with Spanish-language information dialing 211. It also has a website that includes many details in Spanish at www.211sandiego.org.

“That website has the most updated information for Spanish-speakers,” said Jose Alvarez, spokesperson for the County of San Diego. “There’s all sorts of information on the fires.”

Alvarez said that the county has sent out press releases to Spanish-language media for distribution among the community.

“We’re trying to get our message out there,” he said.

Some Latino elected officials are also doing there part and have Spanish-language information and updates available on the phone and online.

Assembly member Lori Saldaña, for example, has bilingual staff available and has a link to Spanish-language information on the fires at her site: http://democrats.assembly.ca.gov/members/a76/

During these difficult times, the Latino community has also shown its solidarity and has donated thousands of dollars in food and items to the shelters.

Casa Familiar, a social services agency in San Ysidro, also set up a shelter for South Bay evacuees, but didn’t get many people. Instead, all the donations Casa Familiar received were being shipped to shelters across the county.

“We want our community to know that if they need a place to stay, our shelter is available for them,” said Monica Hernandez, arts and culture director for Casa Familiar.

Casa Familiar also has Spanish-language information on resources available for evacuees and information in general about the fires. Their number is (619) 428-1115.

Latino organizations, such as Border Angels and M.A.P.A., collected food donations at Chicano Park for several days and then distributed them to shelters and migrant camps in the mountains.

The Mexican Consulate in San Diego also has a 24-hour emergency number available: (619) 231-3847.

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