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Monday, September 5, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Thousands of evacuees coming to state

Seattle Times staff reporter

Washington state is expected to start welcoming at least 2,000 evacuees from the hurricane-devastated Gulf within three days, likely placing them at military facilities or other temporary housing.

Gov. Christine Gregoire announced yesterday the state is prepared to accept the evacuees, after ordering the Washington Emergency Management Division on Saturday to coordinate with local jurisdictions and agencies to determine the state's capacity.

The evacuees, many of whom may be sent to King, Snohomish and Pierce counties, could stay six to nine months, according to officials.

Along with immediate medical aid and temporary housing, the state also will provide counseling, help in sorting out finances and obtaining official identification, longer-term medical care, schooling and unemployment assistance.

"Most of these people have lost everything and will need extensive help and services to begin to rebuild their lives," Gregoire said in a statement.

It was not known yesterday from which states the evacuees would be arriving.

Officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on Friday asked all states if they could handle evacuees, said Mark Clemens, a spokesman for the state Emergency Management Division. Several other states, including Oregon, have agreed to take in evacuees.

"They're to be treated as guests, for however long they're here," Clemens said. "When they're rested and cleaned up, they can sit down and begin to deal with things like getting in touch with family and accessing their bank accounts."

The evacuees most likely will be housed at military facilities or other temporary housing. Specific locations have not been disclosed, but the city of Seattle will play a key role, Clemens said.

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels has instructed his staff to make an inventory of housing that would be available in the next 72 hours, said his spokeswoman, Marianne Bichsel.

"We've been contacting everyone we can to coordinate how we can accommodate the people, both short and long term," she said.

"There are a lot of social services that go along with this. Families that are coming here will need to have their kids enrolled in school, even if they're only here for two months."

Before the evacuees can be flown here, Gregoire must issue an emergency proclamation and request that President Bush approve disaster aid to the state, Clemens added. This could happen as early as today, he said.

The evacuees likely would not be able to choose to which state they are sent, Clemens added. "It would be nice if they had a preference, but I don't know."

The evacuees will probably arrive in Western Washington to be evaluated before being sent to temporary housing.

FEMA has said it will bring evacuees back to the Gulf once recovery and rebuilding efforts are under way, but even then, their lives may not return to normal, Clemens said.

"Maybe they'll be in temporary housing here and move back to temporary housing back there," he said. "But at least they will be back in their home area."

Other states also accepting evacuees include Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona, Utah, West Virginia, Tennessee and Colorado, said FEMA regional spokesman Mike Howard.

Lisa Chiu: 425-745-7804 or lchiu@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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