Since before Monday evacuees have been gathered in shelters in Meridian. The question for them now is when will they leave? However, perhaps what's more important for them now is what do they do while they're here. That's why city officials say they're working around the clock to not only meet the needs of natives, but also the evacuees here and those which are still to come.
"Easily hundreds more, it could be more than that," says Meridian Mayor John Robert Smith.
Mayor Smith is talking about the number of additional evacuees who may come to the city. Currently, there are more than 1,000 here. To meet their needs Mayor Smith says local, state and federal officials are working together.
"With Medicaid we're working with Mississippi and Louisiana Medicaid and there's now a Web site where Mississippi pharmacists can go online and file under Louisiana Medicaid if they are a Louisiana patient with a valid Louisiana Medicaid ID number. We're also trying to work unemployment checks and any other checks that they're suppose to be receiving, how does that work and how can we get them identified and those checks here?” says Smith. “There are also folks who want jobs of these refugees and they want to help with the rescue effort. Whatever they can do we're trying to make that work too."
City officials are not the only ones working; officials with Meridian Public Schools are also making preparations for children in the evacuee shelters to start school.
"We are going to run buses to the shelters. Hopefully, starting the latter part of this upcoming week and transport the kids from the shelters to the schools and then back to the shelters," says Meridian Public School Superintendent Sylvia Autry. "We'll provide their school supply materials. I talked with the mayor about sponsors for uniforms but we're gonna take 'em in whatever they come in," says Autry.
As for regulations which limit class size, Autry says state officials have given the district clearance to waive such matters and thus, the students will be transported to the schools with the lowest student to teacher ratios where they will receive free lunches.
With it projected to be three months or more before some people can go home, Mayor Smith says city officials are now awaiting the arrival of officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency or FEMA to decide on what to do about long-term housing for evacuees. He says this could be in tent cities, trailers, or somewhere else.
Meanwhile, as for Meridian Public School officials, they are set to meet Monday morning at 9 o'clock to decide whether or not classes can resume on Tuesday.