Vale returns from Louisiana

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Down in Baton Rouge, La., where the temperatures are in triple digits and the humidity is high, lies another Steamboat Springs.

"Camp Colorado" is an area in Baton Rouge where groups of emergency and health workers from the state have rested their heads after spending long days trying to fix what Hurricane Katrina broke.

Chuck Vale, Routt County's emergency services coordinator, spent more than two weeks in Baton Rouge and returned Friday. He spoke briefly during a county news briefing Monday about the camp, which originally was created for 100 emergency responders but swelled to 700 by the time Vale left.

The Steamboat tent alone held about 225 workers who had come to help with the relief effort.

"They knew they needed a lot of help, but they also needed a place to keep them," Vale said.

It was not easy for emergency workers to function, Vale said. A fire truck or police officer could not just show up and automatically help, in part because all of the businesses were gone, he said.

"There were no rental cars, no gasoline. ... Wal-Mart is empty, 7-Eleven is blank."

Vale said he and other Colo--rado volunteers were working 20-hour days.

"You need backup just to release yourself. We were just brain-dead," he said.

The constant stress was unlike anything Vale had seen.

"It was just the darndest thing I've ever imaged I'd be involved in."

Vale said he thinks the nation's emergency-response systems will change in response to Katrina and the relief efforts that have followed.

"I suspect we'll learn a lot from this."

-- To reach Dana Strongin call 871-4229

or e-mail dstrongin@steamboatpilot.com

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