Ten years ago, Roeland Park stood ready to take in evacuees from Hurricane Katrina

Steve Petrehn recounting the story of Roeland Park's readiness to help Katrina victims.
Steve Petrehn recounting the story of Roeland Park’s readiness to help Katrina victims.

Ten years ago Roeland Park nearly became a central point in the evacuation effort from Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

Steve Petrehn was a relative new mayor of the city back in 2005. When the levies were breached and it became evident that people would need to be evacuated, Roeland Park was ready to step up, Petrehn recounted to the city council Monday night.

“To me it was a bright spot in the history of the city,” Petrehn said. It wasn’t the city getting into the evacuation business, he said, “it was just us being good neighbors.”

According to Petrehn, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had asked states to come up with ideas for lending assistance and then-Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius had asked for facilities that could be used to help victims of Katrina.

At that time, Petrehn said, the city had just acquired the Roeland Park Elementary School. Responding to the call for help, the city contacted Johnson County Emergency Management and the wheels were in motion. The city council approved its use as an evacuation center; the county inspected it and signed off; the Shawnee Mission School District, which didn’t own it any longer, sent crews to clean the building and get it ready for evacuees.

Roeland Park “was ready as an evacuation city,” the former mayor said. It literally came down to hours before the first evacuees were loaded on planes headed for Kansas City and FEMA changed course, deciding that the evacuations could be handled closer to New Orleans.

The 10th anniversary of the Katrina disaster, Petrehn told the council, was a good time to relate the story of Roeland Park’s role.