A long way from New Orleans

Categories: National

But will Katrina victims come to Minnesota?

The Strib reports online this evening that state officials are beginning to wonder if "evacuees" will ever make it to Camp Ripley in central Minnesota. Local Guard officials claim that the unfortunately named "Operation Northern Comfort" is ready, with some 3,600 beds good to go in the barracks.

Kevin Smith, spokesman for the state's Department of Public Safety, notes that many of the victims are saying they don't want to go as far away from home as Minnesota.

And Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson (DFL-Willmar), a Guard chaplain himself, offers this slightly distasteful quote: "Everything is in place for the party to begin, but we don't have anyone to dance with right now. It's just wait and see."

Truth is, nobody knows for sure what's going on.

It's considerable how little we know what happened in the aftermath of the hurricane, how how little we know what's going to happen next. (An influx of 5,000 refugees might change the landscape of Minnesota for years to come, the likes of which we haven't seen for 25 years, since refugees of the Vietnam War came here from Southeast Asia 25 years ago.)

Even so, the folks at Camp Ripley seem prepared for ... what? I called around the base today, trying to see what press access would be like if and when the displaced victims come.

"We've been told to be ready for 3,000 to 5,000 people," one Specialist told me over the phone late this afternoon. "We're expecting the low side, but we're ready for the high side."

As far as the time frame, he told me that they expected 24 hours notice, and that the camp might be seeing evacuees by Friday afternoon. But even that seemed precarious: "It might take a month, for all we know."

The specialist directed me to another number, one that some "federal" command had set up outside the base. But the person reached on that line seemed as in-the-dark as anyone (they all really were trying to be helpful), and referred me back to a "public affairs" number at the base.

Much has been made, even in the mainstream media, about the friction between local and federal officials leading to a lack of communication all around. Camp Ripley, it would seem, is not immune from this.


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