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I just got back from a FEMA Detainment Camp

(Note from the editor. The following first person report with photographs (indicated by ...) and follow-up comments was posted on the website

(6 Sep 2005) -- I'M extremely depressed to report that things seem to only be getting sadder concerning the people so devastatingly affected by Katrina last week. Two car loads of us headed over to Falls Creek, a youth camp for Southern Baptist churches in Oklahoma that agreed to have its facilities used to house Louisiana refugees. I'm afraid the camp is not going to be used as the kind people of the churches who own the cabins believe it was going to be used.

Jesse Jackson was right when he said "refugees" was not the appropriate word for the poor souls dislocated due to Katrina. But he was wrong about why it is not appropriate. It's not appropriate because they are detainees, not refugees.

Falls Creek is like a small town that is closed down about nine months out of the year. It is made up of cabins that range from small and humble to large and grandiose, according to how much money the church who owns the cabin has. Each cabin has full kitchen facilities, bathrooms and usually have two large bunkrooms - one for women and one for men. The occupancy of the cabins varies according to the church. This past week the Southern Baptist association of Oklahoma offered the facility as a place to house refugees from the Katrina disaster. Each church owning a cabin was then called to find out if they would make their cabin available. Churches across the state agreed.

I started my journey by loading six large trash bags full of clothes in the back of my beetle buggy. I then went to the local Dollar General and purchased various hygiene products, snacks and even a set of dominoes and a deck of cards. I had my daughter take her own shopping cart and go and select her own items that she wanted to take. I told her to imagine herself without anything in the world and then select what she would need to live every day.

We then met up with my elderly parents who had gone to the Dollar Store themselves, and to the grocery store and had spent WAY too much of their limited social security on the venture. But that's okay. We ended up having to take both vehicles on the 150 mile round trip because they were both pretty full. My son showed up and wanted to go. He drove my parents while my daughter and I rode in my car.

To say we all left with excitement would be appropriate. My 78 year old mother is a "fixer". She loves to help people and she absolutely needs some one to dote over. That she was about to be able to help some people who had lost all in their lives had her feeling physically healthier than I've seen her in days. I was glad to get the chance to actively do something other than donate what little I can to some faceless charity hoping it would get to the people who needed it. I felt glad I could do some small something that might cut through the helplessness I've felt over this situation. Both of my kids were eager to assist.

The only odd thing that occurred prior to setting off happened while I was gassing up in our small town. My daughter was pumping the gas and a lady she knew pulled up to an adjacent pump. My daughter started telling her where we were going and that we were taking things to the refugees. The lady told my daughter that she had been told the Red Cross was not allowing any one to deliver supplies. When I returned to the car from paying for the gas my daughter informed of this. I told her that the Red Cross would not be preventing the members of our church from entering our own cabin, so it really didn't matter. It was at that point we decided to stop back by the house and get my daughter's camera so that she could take pictures if required.

From the moment I heard about Falls Creek being scheduled to receive refugees I had two thoughts run through my mind:

1. What a beautiful place to be able to stay while trying to get your life back in order.

2. What a terrible location to be when you're trying to get your life back in order.

The first thought is because Falls Creek is nestled in the Arbuckle Mountains of south central Oklahoma. One of the more beautiful regions of the state. It would be a peaceful and beautiful place to try to start mending emotionally, and begin to figure what you're going to do next.

The second thought comes because Falls Creek is very secluded and absolutely no where near a population center. The closest route from Falls Creek to a connecting road is three miles on a winding narrow road called "High Road" (It gets that name for two reasons - it's goes over the mountain instead of around it like "Low Road" does, and it's where the teenagers of the area go to party). The road has not a single home on it for over 3 miles. After battling that 3 miles over mountains, you'll find yourself about 5 miles from the nearest town, Davis, Oklahoma, population ca. 2000. This is no place to start a new life.

A few pictures headed toward Falls Creek over High Road to give you a feel of the seclusion.


All of sudden the landscape changed from picturesque mountainous rural America, to something foreign to me as we approached the rear gate of the camp. Two Oklahoma State Patrol vehicles and four Oklahoma Troopers guarded the gate. We started through and they stopped us.

"Can I help you, ma'am?"

I informed him we're here to deliver supplies to *our church's name* cabin. He stood silent and stared at me. My daughter turned and snapped a picture of his vehicle - very conspicuously.

I smiled at him and he asked, "Do you know where that cabin is located?"

I informed him I did. He looked at me a bit longer and then said, "Ok" and stepped away from the car. They stopped my parents' vehicle as well, but I assume my son informed them he was with us. They let them pass.


We made our way through the narrow streets toward our church's cabin.

We noticed that the various church cabins had numbered placards on them that normally weren't there.


We arrived at our cabin and started toting the clothes in. We finally found a group of men upstairs in the dorms trying to do something alien to them - make beds. They had almost completed the room of bunk beds and told us we could go over to the ladies' dorm room and start on it. We lugged our sacks of clothes back down the stairs. Then we got the first negative message. "You can't bring any clothes in. FEMA has stated they will accept no more clothes. They've had 30 people sorting clothes for days. They don't want anymore." My mind couldn't help but go back over the news articles that have accused FEMA of refusing water in to Jefferson Parrish, or turning fuel away.

We lugged the bags of clothes back to the car. We then turned to bringing in our personal hygiene products. That's when we learned our cabin had been designated a "male only" cabin. Approximately 40 men, ranging from age 13 on up would be housed there. We started resacking the female products and sorted out everything that would be useful for men.

We lugged the bags of female products back to the car. We asked if they knew of a cabin that had been designated for women. The "host" (the hosts are Oklahoma civilians who have been employeed??? by FEMA to reside at each cabin and have already gone through at least one "orientation" meeting conducted by FEMA at "BASE" which is some unknown but repetitively referred location within the camp) told us he believed McAlester cabin was dedicated to females. He then explained there were male, female and family cabins designated.

We then started lugging in our food products. The foods I had purchased were mainly snacks, but my mother - God bless her soul - had gone all out with fresh vegetables, fruits, canned goods, breakfast cereals, rice, and pancake fixings. That's when we got the next message: They will not be able to use the kitchen.

Excuse me? I asked incredulously.

FEMA will not allow any of the kitchen facilities in any of the cabins to be used by the occupants due to fire hazards. FEMA will deliver meals to the cabins. The refugees will be given two meals per day by FEMA. They will not be able to cook. In fact, the "host" goes on to explain, some churches had already enquired about whether they could come in on weekends and fix meals for the people staying in their cabin. FEMA won't allow it because there could be a situation where one cabin gets steaks and another gets hot dogs - and...

it could cause a riot.

It gets worse.

He then precedes to tell us that some churches had already enquired into whether they could send a van or bus on Sundays to pick up any occupants of their cabins who might be interested in attending church. FEMA will not allow this. The occupants of the camp cannot leave the camp for any reason. If they leave the camp they may never return. They will be issued FEMA identification cards and "a sum of money" and they will remain within the camp for the next 5 months.

My son looks at me and mumbles "Welcome to Krakow."

My mother then asked if the churches would be allowed to come to their cabin and conduct services if the occupants wanted to attend. The response was "No ma'am. You don't understand. Your church no longer owns this building. This building is now owned by FEMA and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. They have it for the next 5 months." This scares my mother who asks "Do you mean they have leased it?" The man replies, "Yes, ma'am...lock, stock and barrel. They have taken over everything that pertains to this facility for the next 5 months."

We then lug all food products requiring cooking back to the car. We start unloading our snacks. Mom appeared to have cornered the market in five counties on pop-tarts and apparently that was an acceptable snack so the guy started shoving them under the counter. He said these would be good to tied people over in between their two meals a day. But he tells my mother she must take all the breakfast cereal back. My mother protests that cereal requires no cooking. "There will be no milk, ma'am." My mother points to the huge industrial double-wide refrigerator the church had just purchased in the past year. "Ma'am, you don't understand...

It could cause a riot."

He then points to the vegetables and fruit. "You'll have to take that back as well. It looks like you've got about 10 apples there. I'm about to bring in 40 men. What would we do then?"

My mother, in her sweet, soft voice says, "Quarter them?"

"No ma'am. FEMA said no...

It could cause a riot. You don't understand the type of people that are about to come here...."

I turn and walk out of the room...lugging all the healthy stuff back to the car. My son later tells me the man went on to say "We've already been told of teenage girls delivering fetuses on buses." My son steps toward him and says "That's because they've almost been starved to death, haven't had a decent place to get a good night's sleep, and their bodies can't keep a baby alive. I'm not sure that's any evidence some one should be using to show these are 'bad people'."

We then went to the second dorm room and made up beds. When we got through and were headed outside the host says to me and my daughter, "How did you get in here?" I told him we came in through the back gate. He replies, "No, HOW did you get in here? No one who doesn't have credentials showing is supposed to be in here." (I had noticed all the "hosts" had two or three badges hanging around their necks.) I told him it might have had something to do with the fact my daughter was snapping pictures of the OHP presence at the gate. He then tells us, "Well, starting in the morning NO ONE comes in. So if you have further goods you want to donate you will have to take them to your local church. They will collect them until they have a full load and then bring them to the front gate."

Me and my two kids then walked over the hill to the camp's amphitheater.

First - just another OHP car...


The amphitheater is full of clothes (but I'm not sure I'm seeing enough for 5000 people for 5 months).


But there was Oklahoma Department of Safety truck and a military vehicle...


and a cell phone tower (which fretling didn't get a pic of...grrr). Falls Creek, because it sits in a "bowl" surrounded by mountains, is notorious for no cell phone coverage.

There were buses coming in the front gate at about a rate of 1 every 2 or 3 minutes. We could hear them below us as we walked back up the hill. We could also see their white tops through the trees. We figured these were busloads of refugees arriving, but we never saw these buses in the camps, nor were any refugees visible at the camp while we were there.

We then loaded back into our vehicles and headed toward the cabin we had been told was for women so that we could off-load our appropriate products. When we arrived there was no one in the cabin so we preceded to unload our vehicles and take the merchandise in to the cabin. A horde of "hosts" who had been hovering at a nearby cabin head toward us.

"Can we help you?"

I explained to them what we were doing.

"Uhh... you can't just leave donated goods in the cabins. FEMA has stated they want all supplies to go to their central warehouse. They said they have had far too many supplies come in and they need to handle them. You can't leave ANY clothes."

I just stared at them.

One chubby-checker, after several moments of pregnant pause broken only by the sound of my 82 year old dad continuing to shuffle boxes out of the back of his car (GO DAD!), says "I'll call "BASE" and confirm what should happen here."

I continue to stare.

He pounds out the number on his cell phone and when some one picks up he chickens out and just asks "I need to verify that cabin 11 is a female only facility." When he hangs up he says that it is and I respond, "Well, good, we'll get on with this then." It's at that point my son pulls me aside and says, "Every damned one of them have the same phone. That's what the comm tower is for at the amphitheater. Now we know how FEMA runs through billions, they've given every one of these people a Cingular phone when walkie-talkies would have worked just fine."

We off-load our goods into the McAlester cabin. Fretling takes pics of the buckets of toys that have been donated by citizens for the kiddos coming this way.


And a dorm room:


We then start out of the camp. I tell my daughter I want to go out the main gate this time. Here is what we saw on the way out:

Just another OHP car...

This cabin was apparently commandeered by a group of people in navy blue jumpsuits with insignias all over them. You can see them in the left side of this pic. But they were standing all over the place on both sides of the narrow street.


This is just one OHP car in a long line of them parked along the side of the street.


Three firetrucks parked along the river.


Talk about a surreal moment...troops (unknown if Regular or National Guard) have taken up residency in the Durant First Baptist Church cabin very near the main gate of the camp.


Two things to point out in the pictures above...we passed a row of about 6 or 8 ambulances parked in the street just in front of the troop cabin, and the large tent on the top of the hill...we have no idea what that is for.

Main gate completely blocked by OHP vehicles as we approach:

More OHP vehicles parked at the rear gate as we pass by:


Now I'm starting to understand why it doesn't matter that this location is not conducive to starting a new life.

[edit on 9-6-2005 by Valhall]

The camp is approximately 160 acres. Treat it as a circle for all intents and purposes. 2/3 of that circle is fenced, the back 1/3 is closed off by mountains. If you decide to leave the camp over the mountains you would be hiking through fairly rugged country. But if they find their way to Devil's Bathtub (it's up in the mountains and a favorite "trek" for the teenagers who go to summer camp), they could follow the creek bed and end up finding their way to the interstate. That would be quite a trek, especially if you had kiddos with you.


Major Update:
posted on 6-9-2005 at 09:41 AM Post Number: 1664707 (post id: 1686600)

Springer just spoke with the preacher of our church. This is what he has been told. FEMA has stated until they get these people "in the system", which means on welfare/medicaid, unemployment, etc. and until they have worked through the health issues (the preacher was told there are three outbreaks of dysentary in the group of people coming to this camp) no one will be able to come in the camp and no one will be able to leave. Our preacher had had an offer from one man to come in and wire our cabin with satellite so that it could have TV reception. FEMA told him he could not come in due to health concerns.

The preacher stated that when the southern Baptist convention "donated" (I'm assuming that means they are taking no monies) the camp to FEMA for this purpose they had to sign over complete control. The preacher said we have no say in how things go from that point on. FEMA then "hired" (I guess) the OHP for "security purposes".

The preacher also had asked about the children and he was told that once the health concerns were under control the children would be attending school. But it his understanding this school will be inside the camp.

All of this makes sense to me and Springer. But I do question why taking sick people into a wilderness setting, in a confined area with 5000 people, is deemed a more appropriate action than taking them to hospitals. The camp is at least a 30 minute drive to the closest adequate hospital. The question becomes -- how long will it take to get the health issues under control? Maybe FredT or some one can address that question.

A man in this area who owns a machine shop has already informed the preacher that if anybody in the camp has machining capabilities, he has two houses he owns available for them to move into and jobs for them.

CORRECTION: There are RUMORS of three dysentary outbreaks. The reason given for the lock-down is so they can figure out who is sick and who is not. That makes sense.

[edit on 9-6-2005 by Valhall]

[edit on 9-6-2005 by Valhall]

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