BENTON -- Refugees of Hurricane Katrina are migrating north and setting up camp at a local disaster relief center, which opened Thursday in Benton.
The American Red Cross is in charge of the relief center at the Charleston Baptist Association campgrounds in Benton. The site, which is complete with dorms, is located three miles from Interstate 55 on Highway 77.
"The Red Cross had some families that were here. They had no place to go. Some stayed in a motel at Poplar Bluff. They couldn't go home, and there was no home there," explained John Rhodes, Southeast Missouri regional coordinator of the Charleston Baptist Association.
The campgrounds are typically utilized in the summer for the Association's church camps, but now the dorms are vacant so the Association is allowing the Red Cross to use its site.
"The campgrounds are complete with dorms, showers, a kitchen and place to eat, and plenty of room for the kids and they won't put anyone out," Rhodes said. "There's room for up to 80 people."
Should the Benton site fill up, the Association has four other camps in Southeast Missouri that will then open up to refugees. The other campgrounds are in Perryville, Kennett, Van Buren and Mountain View.
"This is where they'll be for 8-12 weeks, at least. We're not talking about just a week or day or two," Rhodes said.
Joe Burton of Scott County E-911 has contacted the state Emergency Management Agency, requesting the state highway department put signs on northbound Interstate 55 to alert refugees coming from the South of the relief center.
"What we've found is people are just looking for places to go. Those people are staying at motels and running out of money and we've got to be able to do something," Burton said.
Since the hurricane ripped through the Gulf, residents throughout Southeast Missouri have looked for ways to help victims, Burton said. For example, the churches in Sikeston have fed about 50 people since early this week.
What will happen is all of the different groups are consolidating into one community effort that will aid the relief center, Burton said.
And as families move into the campgrounds, they may also utilize local school systems.
So far the Kelly School District, which is located just down the road from the camp site, is the only district in the area to have enrolled students from the South.
Children who are refugees of Hurricane Katrina have been designated as homeless children by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Under federal law, homeless children are eligible for immediate enrollment even without immunization records or other documentation.
"If there's someone who was living in New Orleans and they had to evacuate, they have no shot records or other documents," said Don Moore, superintendent of Kelly Schools. "Under this circumstance, they are declared homeless. We can enroll them, and they start right then."
Moore said the district is ready for any new students and will deal with the situation as the students come.
The hardest adjustment for the district would be deciding the bus route for the students living at the campground -- should one bus pick them or should they be assigned to four different buses that pass by the site each day. But bus routes are nothing compared to what the victims have been through, Moore said.
"We're trying to do our part," Moore said. "And our part is a lot easier than what these people have been through."