Storm Problems

Mother nature has been disastrous for many in the Southeast in the past week. No one questions that football games pale in comparison to life and death matters brought about by storms such as Hurricane Katrina. Alabama will play a football game Saturday night, and some will be inconvenienced because of Katrina. The University of Alabama is being pro-active.

Alabama Football Coach Mike Shula has addressed the matter several times this week. Following practice Wednesday he noted that several Alabama players have family who were in harm's way.

Shula said, "For Keith (Brown) and his family and our other players who have some relatives in that area, that are from the Mobile area, our thoughts go out to them and our prayers to everyone down there. It's just unbelievable watching. We can only imagine what it must be like. We've reminded our team to keep everybody in their prayers and that hopefully we can help out in any way we can."

Tuscaloosa has been an area where those escaping the storm, particularly from Louisiana and Mississippi, have found refuge. However, hotel space is limited, and virtually every room in Tuscaloosa has been booked for this weekend by out-of-town football fans. There is no easy solution.

Shula took one step in hopes of alleviating the situation by cutting back significantly on the number of hotel rooms the Crimson Tide team will use Friday night. That might be considered somewhat symbolic because the rooms have been reserved beginning Saturday night for fans, but it is a matter of Shula doing as he said, which is to do anything one can.

There was a reliable report that Shula offered to give up every room with the staff and players just staying in their residences, but the hotel said that would not be necessary.

In an email message sent to 50,000-plus Alabama supporters and season ticket holders Wednesday afternoon, Alabama Athletics Director Mal Moore asked fans to assist Hurricane Katrina victims who may be staying in area hotels.

The University of Alabama athletics department, in conjunction with the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama, the City of Tuscaloosa, the Tuscaloosa Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Tuscaloosa Area Hospitality Management Association, is encouraging out-of-town fans to relinquish their hotel rooms in Tuscaloosa this weekend.

"Due to the tremendous influx of evacuees from Hurricane Katrina, area hotels are booked," said Moore. "We are asking our fans who have reservations here this weekend to check with their respective hotels and, if needed, allow that room to be utilized by evacuees.

"The human tragedy as a result of Katrina is staggering and I know Crimson Tide fans will do what they can to help those who are not able to immediately return to their homes," Moore said.

The reality is that hotels will not be able to house evacuees on a charity basis and so most are going to have to make other arrangements soon.

Football fans attending the season opener will have an opportunity to show their support for victims of Hurricane Katrina as The University of Alabama works with the American Red Cross to collect donations at Bryant-Denny stadium prior to Saturday's 6 p.m. game.

"Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the victims of Hurricane Katrina and in addition to providing shelter for evacuees, we wanted to invite our fans to support the work of the American Red Cross relief efforts," said UA President Robert E. Witt.

The UA Student Recreation Center continues to serve as a Red Cross shelter for hundreds of evacuees from South Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. The shelter was set up last Sunday on campus.

In addition to housing shortages, fans coming to Tuscaloosa this weekend should be aware that the city and campus areas suffered severe damage from Katrina. Traffic lights are being restored and rubble from downed trees and damaged houses is being removed as rapidly as possible, but visitors should plan for delays and some parking difficulties.

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