Please note: This is not a "Vigil" diary. This is just a quick and dirty update diary to apprise folks of where things stand in practical and logistical terms for Kelley and the Waldo Canyon Fire evacuees.
Today's Vigil, by belinda ridgewood, will be posted later this evening, probably around 8PM EDT. Please watch for it, and when it goes up, tip, rec, share, and post your thoughts, prayers, and blessings.
I'm going to try to organize this by subject, so folks can find the info they need more easily. Apologies in advance if it reduces readability. The information to follow comes from phone conversations with Kelley and from a few other sources. Everything's over the jump.
Kelley tells me she's okay, although it's clear from her voice that she's exhausted. She's not sleeping well, because of her back problems and she's stuck with a hotel bed, and her breathing problems are being aggravated severely by the smoke. But at the moment, she has most other immediate necessities.
Other folks at the lodge seem to be maintaining, too. No, the situation is not good, and it will likely get worse before it gets better, but I don't think anyone taking shelter there is in imminent danger - for now, at least. With regard to folks that elected to "camp out," I have no current information. If and when I hear anything, I'll post it.
Short answer: There is none. Various state, county, and local officials have been holding press conferences throughout the day today, but everything is still up in the air. This morning, people asked how long it would be before officials reopened the highway so they could return home, at least long enough to get supplies; they were told they would be stuck there, "theoretically, at least through Monday." My sense is that most people are taking that to mean A) "We have no idea," and/or B) "A long frickin' time." Either way, I think people are hoping for Monday, but expecting that, realistically, it's likely to be longer than that.
THE RED CROSS - BACKGROUND
For folks who want a more detailed rundown, I suggest reading weatherdude's diary from yesterday. This is going to be, as I said, quick and dirty.
A lot of folks who evacuated voluntarily went north, to Woodland Park, rather than south to Colorado Springs. A number of them wound up at the Woodland Park Country Lodge (which is where Kelley is staying), in large part because the Lodge is accepting pets. The various shelters set up by the Red Cross and other entities refuse to accept pets. Now, our animals are family. Four-legged and winged, but family none the less for that. We would NOT, under any circumstances, abandon them to the flames. Nor should these folks be expected to do so. Now, we're going to need a sea change in how our society looks at well-being generally, much less things like disaster assistance, before I expect any significant progress on that front. But this is one significant reason why many folks chose to go to a hotel rather than drive to one of the shelters in the first place.
Second, many of the evacuees - even those without pets - cannot simply pick up and go to a shelter set up elsewhere. Some no longer drive, or have no transportation of their own. Some have health issues that now prevent them from further travel - or from travel to the latest shelter location. And some have no money with which to make the trip. So there are numerous very basic considerations here that current disaster planning doesn't even envision at the outset.
Initially, the Red Cross set up shelter services at Woodland Park. Great. True, it didn't help those with pets, or infants, or who for health or whatever other reasons couldn't stay in the shelter. But it was something. And it provided a place where evacuees could, presumably, get at least a little food and water, perhaps toiletries, etc.
And then the Red Cross pulled out. They abandoned Woodland Park.
And no; I'm not going to pretty it up at all. It was abandonment.
And some of us are pretty goddamn pissed.
He has a contact in this general region who works for the Red Cross. And so last night, he got on the horn and went to work.
[Note: I am not going to give information that might identify this person. I do not want to jeopardize this person's position, particularly after s/he went to some lengths late into the night last night, and again today, to get to the bottom of this mess. And I also do not want anyone to impute what I say in this diary about the Red Cross as an organization to this individual or to any other individuals currently working to ameliorate the situation. They are constrained by organizational bureaucracy, and I'm just grateful that they are willing to challenge that, to whatever limited extent they're able, to get some relief for the folks in Woodland Park.]
Now, I know y'all here think Wings is Mr. Zen. Y'all would be wrong. Particularly when he sees an injustice that he thinks needs to be righted. And so that was his mode last night. If you've never seen an angry Indian demanding to know why "elders have been abandoned," it's a sight to behold - but you don't want to be on the receiving end of it, trust me.
So anyway, he gave his contact the whole story. Mind you, this was after 5 PM on a Friday before a holiday. This person could've ignored the whole thing - but didn't. He was getting text updates until about 10 PM last night, and then throughout today.
Here's the nutshell version of what he was told, and it's an exquisite exercise in ass-covering buck-passing:
The Red Cross went to Woodland Park and set up a shelter. However, the shelter wound up being in what would become a mandatory evacuation zone, and the police ordered them to move up to Divide, where it was safer. They had no choice in the matter. However, they've also set up other shelters in other areas of that part of the state, and people can go to those shelters.Just one problem (well, one among several): It isn't true.
The Red Cross pulled out of Woodland Park two days before the mandatory evacuation order was issued. The excuse I've heard (Not from Wings's contact; elsewhere) is that they did it because of the smoke.
Got that? Disaster relief workers whose job it is to help victims of the smoke MOVED ELSEWHERE so that they wouldn't have to be bothered by the smoke.
Sweet jumping jesus on a Day-Glo trampoline, but I was pissed to hear that.
I've also read (will have to see if I can dig up links later) that some 70% of evacuees are back home; that some 10,000 are still displaced; and that the 1%-er types got returned home first, while the poor are still left behind.
Unfortunately, it's our Kelley among those 10,000 still displaced, so I'm not letting this drop.
WORD FROM KELLEY
Last night, she told me that the hotel manager had done a good deed and scrounged up a hot dinner for everyone in the hotel: "I turned him into a damn activist!" I have no doubt that she did. At any rate, he apparently went into town and came back with fried chicken, mashed potatoes, sweet corn, and other trimmings, and went up and down the hotel hallways pounding on doors summoning everyone to a [free] hot meal. Bless the man.
Today, she alternated between monitoring news conferences and talking with the Red Cross public health nurse at great length - or, as she put it, yelling, crying, apologizing, and starting the cycle all over again. Part of the problem here is that the Red Cross folks (and everyone else involved in any relief capacity) have no frame of reference for what displaced persons truly face. They particularly have no concept of what it means to have chronic health problems that may be severe, an aging body that can't handle certain circumstances and tasks, or what it means to have no resources - no spare cash, no credit cards, nothing. I'm generalizing, obviously, but I also spent enough of my professional life in the nonprofit sector to know that, globally, I'm right. These are folks who have the luxury of living very middle class, very comfortable lives, most of whom have never known real poverty or real personal hardship, and they norm everything on their own experience. They truly cannot fathom that there are people out there who don't have access to all the same resources they do. Oh, well, and if you don't, then it must be through some fault of your own. And, no, I do not want to hear from all the nonprofit sector folks like myself who DO get it, because if you think about your colleagues and what they say and do in their unguarded moments, you'll realize that you, who do get it, are not the norm here.
I'm not going to recite the litany of excuses and meager "offerings" that they seem to think are so substantial. I'm not even going to waste more than this sentence on the fact that they will not, under any circumstances, issue cash vouchers for hotels "when [they] have perfectly good [and utterly inaccessible] shelters set up," because to do so would amount to a moral hazard. And I'm not going to spend more than this sentence on the ludicrous fact that they think that seven miles is nothing, when it's 1,000 feet higher in altitude (and folks with breathing problems can't breathe), and that without a vehicle it might as well be 7,000 miles anyway.
I'm going to tell you what the public health nurse did offer. Neither is likely to come to pass before tomorrow at the earliest, but at least it's something.
First, she will come down from Divide herself to check on elders and those with health issues, and try to get scripts refilled, oxygen in place, and handle other medical necessities.
Second, the Red Cross says it's sending a team down from Divide with supplies - food, water, tarps, etc. We'll see what, if anything materializes. If it does, great. If not . . . . Well, read on.
POSSIBLE FUTURE AID
Right now, it looks as though fundraising diaries are premature. I'll know more over the days to come, and if it becomes obvious that the Red Cross is abdicating its responsibility entirely, then we'll do what we have to do. There are a couple of options.
First, as I said the last night, a Wal-Mart run. Wal-Mart is what is available right now, so I don't want to hear it.
Newly-minted Kossack blue91 has been a pit bull on this stuff, and I'm profoundly grateful to him or her. S/he checked with both the Wal-Mart in Woodland park and the one here in Taos, and here's what we know so far:
1) If we need to get supplies - food, water, pet food, toiletries, whatever - to Kelley and Co., it is possible for us to do a fundraiser via Wal-Mart. They have "moneygrams" that can be bought via phone in a particular person's name; that person can cash them in, pick up the supplies, and deliver them. I had thought perhaps we could do it via the Woodland Park Wal-Mart, but it is not open for business because of the fire. [Interestingly, however, the police have been letting those Wal-Mart employees who are displaced and staying at the Lodge go into the store to restock shelves in case they can re-open - corporate membership clearly has its privileges, at least for the business end of things.] If that does not happen, but there is a road in and out, I have already volunteered to do it from the Taos Wal-Mart, cram my car to the roof, and schlep everything up there.
But we're not there yet, so don't go trying to spend money. With a little luck (or the Red Cross stepping up), we may not need to worry about it at all.
2) If we need to raise funds to keep people sheltered at the Lodge, there is a store practically next door called City Market that handles wire transfers. We can wire funds to Kelley there, and she can disburse the cash as needed. She's already checked with the Lodge's manager to see whether anyone's in imminent danger of eviction for inability to pay; he told her no. She did tell him to let her know immediately of anyone's situation gets to that point, which he has promised to do; she in turn will let me know.
Again, don't go wiring funds yet. It may not be needed.
I had to run to the grocery store before posting this; while I was gone, Wings got another text from his contact saying that someone up the food chain at the Red Cross "wanted to speak to an elder" among the Woodland Park evacuees. He promptly called Kelley and asked permission to forward her cell number, which she granted. He passed it along a little while ago. I have heard nothing new yet, but if I do, I'll update accordingly.