Hurricane helpers swing into action on Whidbey

By now, the images of families lost, towns destroyed and lives ruined are permanently engrained in the mind’s eye of most Americans.

As many watch the devastation that Hurricane Katrina caused earlier in the week, some are taking the opportunity to show that the positive aspects of humanity still exist.

They have not boarded planes to fly to the south to loot. They are not collecting funds under the guise of help. They are not exploiting the pain of others. They are not boosting gas prices under the auspices of a fuel shortage.

The men, women and children of Whidbey Island have found that the best way to help is to, well, to help.

Barb Johnson, executive director of the Oak Harbor Red Cross, said that five people from here have already flown to the disaster area to offer their assistance. They are specially trained professionals that know how to deal with disasters, even if they have never seen one on this scale.

Four of these people left Sunday, before Katrina even hit the Gulf Coast. It had already murdered in Florida, but it was bearing down on Louisiana and its neighbors with a menacing urgency.

“Everybody wants to do something,” Johnson said. “There’s people all over the island who want to fund raise.”

For some, doing something means making frantic phone calls. Oak Harbor City Councilwoman Sue Karahalios has most of her family in the areas that many are familiar with now: Slidell, Jefferson Parrish, Picayunne.

“It was very, very hard watching it on TV,” Karahalios said.

She was watching the destruction of her brother’s businesses. She could recognize neighborhoods — that is if they still existed.

Most of her family had the foresight to evacuate the area long before the storm hit. Luckily, her two brothers, a sister, her son, grandson and former daughter-in-law are all safe. Some are even able to find the humor in the situation.

“My brother said, ‘You know Sue, I always wanted lake-front property; I just didn’t know the lake wanted me so badly’,” she said.

A learning experience

Island County officials say that this is providing them an opportunity to expose some of the weak points in the county’s preparedness plans.

Dave Hollett, deputy director of Island County’s Department of Emergency Services, said that the agency will be establishing a round table discussion for county leaders to discuss what would happen if the county was completely

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