Leader Blues

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

TOP STORY >> District sends its buses to transport evacuees

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader staff writer

Nearly 90 Pulaski County Special School District personnel, driving 62 buses, answered Gov. Mike Huckabee’s call Labor Day weekend, transporting more than 1,100 storm evacuees from Fort Chaffee to relocation centers around the state.

“Late Friday we received a call for assistance,” said Brad Montgomery, the district’s transportation director. “We put the word out to our drivers and the response was amazing, to pick folks up at Fort Chaffee and disperse them throughout the state.”

In addition to the Pulaski County Special School District buses, Little Rock School District provided 10 buses and Laidlaw Transportation another 20, according to Montgomery.
“We arrived at Fort Chaffee and found just a sea of humanity,” he said. “These poor souls had been sitting all night waiting to be processed.”

Fort Chaffee was prepared for about 4,000 evacuees, but about 9,000 arrived by motor coach directly from rooftops, the convention center and the Super-dome, all in New Orleans.

Montgomery said his drivers delivered the refugees to centers in Conway, Garland County, Pine Bluff Convention Center, Redfield, Little Rock, Van Buren, Russellville and other locations.

With First Lady Janet Huck-abee on one of the buses, state police provided an escort to one convoy.
Montgomery said he bonded with an 80-year-old man named Stanley, a recent stroke victim, who survived on a rooftop for two days before a helicopter rescued him and took him to Louis Armstrong International Airport.
That night at Fort Chaffee was his first bed, first hot meal and first shower in five days, according to Montgomery.

“He had lost contact with his daughter, his only family,” he said.
“There were a lot of heart-wrenching stories. We would do it again in a heartbeat,” said Montgomery.
“I thanked the governor this morning and the drivers thanked us. I’ll never forget the last three days. I saw a lot of tears on the faces of employees.”

Montgomery said that eventually the district would be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for its fuel and employee costs.