Days after Hurricane Katrina left staggering numbers of Gulf Coast residents with nowhere to go, several thousand now have a place to call home: San Antonio.
Beginning today, they'll move into Buildings 1536 and 171 at KellyUSA, a military base-turned-civilian business park on the Southwest Side.
Seeking temporary homes for at least 25,000 refugees, the Texas governor's office called Mayor Phil Hardberger on Thursday morning. The mayor agreed to host part of that group.
Within hours, city street-cleaning trucks vacuumed debris from the quarter-mile-long Building 1536, which once stored aircraft components, shipping materials and weapons. Public works employees ground down bolts sticking up from the floor.
"Gotta get rid of the trip hazards," one torch-wielding worker said.
Creating this city within a city is no small endeavor: From the moment the refugees arrive, they will need food, clothing, shelter and medical care.
In the weeks and, almost certainly, months ahead, their needs will grow more complex: schooling for their children, and perhaps even jobs.
"We've never done anything like this," said Keith Berger, chairman of volunteers for the American Red Cross in Bexar County, one of many organizations helping to create the long-term refugee camp.
With the situation still evolving, many details remain unclear. City officials planned to open the buildings today but, as of Thursday night, remained uncertain about what time they would open.
It could be some time before anyone knows how many temporary residents San Antonio will receive and how long they will stay.
"I think it is legitimate to assume we're not talking about next week they're going to go home," Hardberger said. "The city of New Orleans is effectively closed."
Unfortunately, the number of people displaced by this natural disaster must be in hundred of thousands. Places like the Astrodome in Houston and Kelly USA (the former Kelly Air Force Base) in San Antonio will only be able to accomodate a small fraction of that number. This is going to be a huge effort. And it'll need help from all of us able to provide it.