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Help for victims of Hurricane Katrina 

As the devastation along the Gulf Coast continues in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, volunteer forces from SLO and Santa Barbara counties are being marshaled to descend upon the ravaged area to lend a helping hand.

SLO Red Cross worker Debbi Cristwell arrived Sunday at a Red Cross emergency relief site in Montgomery, Ala.

"The Red Cross is down here setting up places for food and shelter and assessing damage, but it's hard to get there because all the roads are shut down," Cristwell said.

Other local Red Cross disaster volunteers have left or are preparing to go to staging areas in Arkansas as well as part of what the relief organization called the largest mobilization of resources in its history for a single natural disaster.

Mike Shea of Santa Barbara left early on Aug. 28 for Montgomery, where he'll be in charge of warehousing and purchasing supplies for the large-scale operation.

Dan Brooks of Solvang and Bill Hepp of Carpinteria drove the county American Red Cross' emergency response vehicle (ERV) to Little Rock, Ark., where they will deliver hot meals, cleaning supplies, and other necessities to the affected neighborhoods.

"It is an exhausting work," Hepp said in a statement, "but I enjoy doing things as a team, and the Red Cross provides great camaraderie of helpers."

This will be Brooks' third road trip with the ERV. Previously, he drove the county vehicle to New York after 9/11 and to the Olympic Games in Salt Lake City.

"I enjoy helping people," Brooks said in a statement. "I want to make them know that other people across the country care about them and are willing to help."

Locals can support the Red Cross through financial gifts to the Disaster Relief Fund, which enables the organization to provide shelter, food, counseling, and other services.

Call 543-0696, or 1-800-HELP-NOW, or make checks payable to American Red Cross-Hurricane Katrina and send to 225 Prado Rd., SLO, CA 93401. Or visit www.redcross.org.

The Tri-Counties Blood Bank also needs local blood donors to help create a blood reserve that can be quickly shipped to blood centers in Louisiana and Mississippi as needed. The first shipment of blood was being prepared on Aug. 30 - blood centers in those states were closed, and their blood drives have been cancelled indefinitely.

The blood situation is made worse by Labor Day weekend, as donations and blood drives traditionally decline over holidays.

The Tri Counties Blood Bank office in SLO is located at 4119 Broad St. Call 543-4290 for more information or to make an appointment.

-A.R./K.H.

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