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May 31st
Home Columns San Diego Happenings The 'Ritz' of Evacuation Centers Closes Down
The 'Ritz' of Evacuation Centers Closes Down PDF Print E-mail
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Columns - San Diego Happenings
Saturday, 03 November 2007 06:33

The News UpFront (TOP STORY) as of Saturday, 3 November 2007


The "Ritz" of all evacuation centers closed down last week with an abundance of donated groceries, clothing and other merchandise that had remained untouched. When the wildfires finally burned out and subdued almost after a week today (Saturday, Nov. 3), San Diego County notched a milestone in having " the largest fire evacuation operation in the nation’s history".

QUALCOMM STADIUM: The 'Ritz' of Evacuation Centers Closes Down


Sergeant Leonard Ray gestured a thumbs-up from the driver's seat of one of several 6 x 6 camouflage-painted trucks. With that signal, a company of armed California National Guards which had provided security pulled out of the Qualcomm Stadium on Friars Road and Freeway 15 in Mission Valley.

"Mission accomplished," he exclaimed smiling from his perch, after he profferred a photo opportunity at this exact moment --10 minutes before 12 noon of Friday, Oct. 26 -- when Qualcomm Stadium formally closed as the "Ritz" of all California shelters.

(The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) calculated that over half-a-million -- 515,000 to be exact -- county residents "received a voluntary or mandatory evacuation notice during last week’s fires, making it " the largest fire evacuation operation in the nation’s history").

As the convoy of trucks crawled out from the south end of the stadium facing the trolley tracks, a black pickup slowly wended its way to the north gate, careful of its full load of creature comforts -- mattresses, blankets, clothings and some food boxes.

As it passed by, the woman passenger beamed and waved, whispering a silent "thank you" that was visible from her lips. She and her companion driving the pickup were the last fire refugees to come out of the evacuation center that had housed upwards of 10,000 people displaced by the wildfires.

Of the diverse hundreds who took shelter there, I saw only three Filipinos, all brothers who live and work as ranch hands in far-flung Ramona, who were being interviewed by a television reporter from the GMA bureau in Los Angeles.

Many Filipinos do not look enthused at being corralled in evacuation centers; most would prefer to be in the safety and comfort of family and friends than in the convenience of temporary shelters such as Qualcomm Stadium.

There were actually 42 other shelters all over San Diego County but Qualcomm Stadium, The Q as is popularly referred to by baseball fans, stood out, not only for its imposing and commodious structure but for the many amenities it provided, plus tons of food, clothing, everything.

The Los Angeles Times had called it "opulent compared to most disaster shelters". It was indeed, in many respects.

Today, the 10 square feet of "playground" for kids had been swept clean. In the few days before the City of San Diego announced it was closing The Q, dozens of children had played pool, drawn with pencils and crayons, blew balloons, scrambled with their toys.

Stuffed animals and thousands of children's books appeared like a huge dumpster in one corner of the walkway. For the adults, there's hundreds of pocketbooks, magazines and hardbound books to choose from.

A few meters away, volunteers were busy doing massage on at least five fire victims set up on makeshift beds. Not far away was the acupuncture stall awaiting patrons.

Not quite far, three white-shirted musicians belted out jazzy tunes from their trumpets, oblivious to the passing crowd. They played and played.

To their right, two young adults captured a crowd of about 30 with their novel antics, drawing applause and wild cheering.

Going around the stadium, it seemed one is promptly transported to a new community where the misery of being a fire victim had yet to be felt. The smiles in many faces masked the general concern, nay worries about families being uprooted from homes.

Therapists, crisis counselors, mental health experts talk animatedly inside their booths, watching the day's news from television monitors. A chaplain and other religious advocates in bright yellow shirts engaged in their own silent discussions.

Everybody looked busy doing something, listening to music, watching instant shows, talking, eating, watching TV, playing games, cuddling with loved ones, huddling in momentary retreat, walking around searching for neighbors, surfing the web, reading books, sitting quietly.

The many volunteers were even busier attending to everyone's needs, running errands, scrawling and posting messages, providing directions.

The flow of food and soft drinks was never-ending. One can have a pizza by the box, or as many buns and hotdogs one can consume. Ice cream was served by cone or plastic cups. One can have a choice of fruit juices in carton containers or plastic bottles. Cold bottled water can be had individually or by the 24 packs.

Slightly-used clothing filled huge boxes and hangers. Shoes for men, women and children of all sizes and colors were simply dumped on the cement floor. The sheer volume of general merchandise, in comparison, easily made the Salvation Army and Goodwill mere mini-stores.

Women young and old lined up a long table where undies were being disposed by boxes, half a dozen per box. No one was in a hurry poring over the pile for their favorite colors.

The north side of The Q facing Friars Road had become a fair and a swap meet at the same time. Those in there looked more like shoppers than fire victims, only that there wasn't any haggling about prices.

Sixteen wheelers from Ralphs Grocery and Walmart unloaded food and water by the pallets. By Friday, Walmart transport trucks were carting the same items, largely untouched and unopened.

Inside the stadium, a small contingent of boy scouts were wrapping up leftovers of everything in big garbage bags and put them all in one huge pile outside for the trash trucks to haul.

The fire evacuees had been replaced by a small army of cleaners and other volunteers who were hauling back all the goodies that had not been consumed, including groceries, clothing, bed cots, blankets. A rig from the Salvation Army stood waiting.

Soon the "Ritz" of all evacuation centers reverted to Qualcomm Stadium.

PHILIPPINE VILLAGE VOICE - Redefining Community News
Issue No. 86 / News Without Fear or Favor /

. . . . . A community service of San Diego's Philippine Village Voice ( or at 619.265.0611) for the information and better understanding of the public. . . . . .

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Last Updated on Friday, 09 November 2007 09:15

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