By Sandra Ochoa
Among the many entities mobilizing Wednesday to help victims of Hurricane Katrina was the National Council of La Raza, with the largest Hispanic organization in the United States especially concerned about those whose lack of fluency in English might leave them less able to understand instructions from authorities and avail themselves of aid.
The Washington-based NCLR has already established contact with its affiliates in the affected areas on the Gulf Coast to determine the needs of the communities they serve and begin drawing up a plan to meet them. Contact them direct to see how you can help at (202) 785-1670.
Given its primary role as an advocacy group, the NCLR plans to focus on informing Latinos about where and how to obtain the concrete assistance they need, and to make sure they know what they are entitled to expect in the way of aid from federal, state and local authorities.
“There are many immigrants who qualify to receive help from various entities, but they don’t request it because of their undocumented status,” said NCLR’s vice president for public information, Lisa Navarrete.
“We want to guarantee that the Hispanics harmed by this natural disaster are informed about the resources they have at their reach,” she told EFE.
An aide to Honduran President Ricardo Maduro said Wednesday in Tegucigalpa that around 125,000 people from that Central American nation were thought to be residing in Louisiana - mainly in New Orleans - prior to Katrina’s landfall. While the 2000 U.S. Census put the Latino population of the city itself at only 50,000, analysts say the real figure is probably triple that.
The Red Cross, which dispatched personnel to the Gulf Coast as the hurricane approached, has opened more than 200 shelters in Mississippi and Louisiana, all of them staffed with Spanish-speakers.
“In all our shelters we have bilingual volunteers to facilitate aid for Hispanics affected by the hurricane, and we also have a telephone line in Spanish to take any donations the Latino community wants to make,” the Red Cross’s Maria Yabrudy told EFE by telephone.
She said that in addition to needing food, water and a roof over their heads, storm refugees often need psychological counseling to cope with the loss of their homes and livelihoods, so the Red Cross has counselors and social workers standing by at its shelters.
In neighboring Texas, the Houston branch of the Resource Center for Central Americans, known by the Spanish acronym Carecen, is preparing for the arrival of Katrina victims from New Orleans.
“We’re going to receive thousands of homeless people and we in Carecen will have groups of volunteers to offer the necessary hospitality required by the Hispanics who arrive. We will even help them establish themselves in this city and secure employment if they need that,” the group’s executive director in Houston, Nelson Reyes, told EFE.
Reyes added that he plans to work with local media in Texas to organize collection drives for items needed by storm survivors.
The body with overall responsibility for recovery efforts is the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which said that President George W. Bush’s disaster declaration covering the areas stricken by the storm will expedite the availability of funds from Washington.
In the aftermath of last year’s hurricanes in Central Florida, many of that area’s tens of thousands of Hispanic farm workers were afraid to seek aid from FEMA because they entered the United States illegally, but the agency said it would not report undocumented migrants to immigration authorities.
Katrina, which slammed ashore Monday east of New Orleans as a Category 4 storm with winds of 240 kilometers per hour (more than 145 mph), is blamed for 110 confirmed deaths in Mississippi. The mayor of the flooded Louisiana metropolis said late Wednesday that the final death toll in the Crescent City could reach into the thousands.
The hurricane, then a Category 1, claimed 11 lives in its pass over southern Florida late last week.
- Agencia EFE S.A.