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Massachusetts to House 2,500 Hurricane Victims

(AP) Gov. Mitt Romney said Sunday that about 2,500 refugees from Hurricane Katrina will arrive in the state for emergency shelter within the next 48 to 72 hours, and predicted that some would end up permanently relocating to Massachusetts.

Romney said he was told Sunday by the federal government to prepare for the evacuees, who will be temporarily housed at Camp Edwards on Otis Air National Guard Base on Cape Cod.

Romney said Otis has many amenities to accommodate the large numbers, including beds, a school medical facilities and a movie theater.

"We have instituted Operation Helping Hands, indicating the compassion of the people of Massachusetts is as large as our hearts and that we're going to be helping those who are victims of the tragedy in the Gulf,'' Romney said at a news conference at the state Emergency Management Agency headquarters.

Romney had no estimate of the cost of the effort, but said that it would be shared with the federal government. "I want to point out at the beginning that cost is not one of our considerations. Compassion is coming first,'' Romney said. "We're going to worry about the money at another time.''

Romney added that the state has a budget surplus this year, so he expects that the costs of the relocation effort can be covered.

The governor said that most, if not all, of the evacuees would be flown directly to Otis. The exceptions would likely be people with severe medical needs, who would fly directly into Logan International Airport in Boston for transport to area hospitals.

It was unclear which area of the hurricane-ravaged region the refugees would be coming from, but Romney said it was likely they were being transferred from shelters in Texas, where many refugees have been placed.

Romney described a massive mobilization to help the evacuees that would meet both their immediate needs and their long-term necessities.

The first phase of the effort will be triage when the planes arrive at Otis, to determine the medical needs of the evacuees, who they are and whether they have identification. If they don't, the state plans to provide them with a new temporary state ID, Romney said.

After the refugees are settled, officials will do a more detailed assessment of their needs, such as whether their children need schools, if counseling is needed and whether family members are still lost.

Romney predicted that refugees would only be at Otis for one to two months, but then some would settle permanently in the state. The governor said Massachusetts would have to help some of evacuees get jobs, find housing and transportation.

Romney also predicted that thousands more people will probably follow on the tails of the first wave - friends and family who will join the original wave.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

This program aired on September 4, 2005. The audio for this program is not available.

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