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Minnesota to accept 5,000 evacuees; some residents aren't waiting

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Volunteers prepare for an expected 8,000 refugees at the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston (Photo by Dave Einsel/Getty Images )

St. Paul, Minn. — Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced Saturday that Minnesota has told the Federal Emergency Management Agency that the state will make room for 5,000 victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Pawlenty says the state plans to house the victims at state armories around the state or at Camp Ripley.

Pawlenty's Department of Education is helping gather school supplies, the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency is taking an inventory of available housing and the Department of Health is developing plans to screen and offer medical assistance to the victims.

Pawlenty asked three mayors - Roseau's Jeff Pelowski, Bloomington's Gene Winsted and St. Paul's Randy Kelly - to head up a task force that will identify communities able to host and assist the people displaced by the Gulf Coast storm.

Pawlenty says the state has also set up a hotline where people can call for advice about how to help hurricane victims, locate family and friends, and register for assistance if they're a hurricane victim.

The hotline numbers are (651) 297-1304 in the Twin Cities area and 1-800-657-3504 in the non-metro area. For the hearing impaired, the T-T-Y number is 1-800-657-3822.

The hotline will operate through Monday from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.

MINNESOTANS PREPARE TO ACCEPT KATRINA REFUGEES

Hundreds of Minnesota families are preparing to accept people made homeless by Hurricane Katrina. A group of citizens calling itself "Mission from Minnesota" is traveling to Houston Saturday evening to pick up 45 refugees from area shelters and bring them back to Minnesota.

Group organizer Don Ball says he was motivated to organize the trip after seeing many Minnesotans offer their help online.

"I was seeing on the Internet that a lot of people were indicating that they wanted to help, but there was no way for them to connect and hook up and actually do something," he says. "What I committed to do was to kind of be a catalyst, and hook up people who all had different things that they could offer."

Ball says the 1,200-mile trip will likely be the first of several. He has a running list of more than 300 Minnesotans that have said they would open their homes to those made homeless by Katrina and its aftermath.

He says those willing to take in refugees should take the commitment seriously. "It all sounds really good when you're watching pictures on the news and thinking you want to help," he says. "But you're just going to have to realize that it could lead to some uncomfortable moments when you might doubt what you've gotten yourself into."

Mission from Minnesota has made arrangements with several charitable organizations both here and in Houston.

WOODBURY FAMILY REACHES OUT

Dan Lyon, his wife and two children have offered to open their four-bedroom Woodbury home to a family of four and their pet. So far, they've gotten no takers to the invitation posted on the Internet.

"This happened on our own soil. The people are so close. there's something you feel you can do. When it's halfway around the world, it's a little harder," Lyon said, adding, "We can't save the world but we can be the world to three or four people."

HIGHER EDUCATION PITCHES IN

The College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University in Minnesota are offering temporary enrollment to students displaced because of Hurricane Katrina.

"We will work with and try to help any student who expresses an interest, but we are especially eager to communicate our offer to students who make their permanent homes in the upper Midwest (Minnesota, Wisconsin, North and South Dakota) but who were studying or planning to begin study in the affected area," according to MaryAnn Baenninger, the president of the College of Saint Benedict.

Students who are interested should contact Terri Durbin at tdurbin@csbsju.edu.

Associated Press correspondent Brian Bakst contributed to this report.

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