TOP STORY >> Second wave of refugees
Leader staff writers
Residents fleeing the Gulf Coast in advance of Hurricane Rita started making their way to central Arkansas Friday afternoon, filling up hotel and motel rooms and giving local volunteers another opportunity to provide assistance.
At midday Friday, hotel rooms in Jacksonville, Cabot, Beebe and Lonoke were home to several evacuees.
“I have no idea how many there are in all,” Buffy Zelnick of Cabot KARE said Friday afternoon. “All the hotel rooms are booked by Hurricane Rita evacuees. They’re not here yet, but the rooms are booked.”
Zelnick said she had spent most of Thursday night trying to find shelter for three groups from Louisiana, about 60 in all. More were expected.
Rooms were going fast in other parts of the area, too.
“We have about 18 to 20 rooms with families from Texas,” said Ray Patel, general manager of the Jacksonville Days Inn at 1414 John Harden Drive.
The Best Western Inn at 1600 John Harden Drive in Jacksonville had half of its 67 rooms filled. At the Comfort Inn at 1850 John Harden Drive about 20 of the hotel’s 58 rooms were available. More than 60 people from Texas were checked into the Jacksonville Inn on Hwy. 67/167.
In Beebe, hotel rooms are full of evacuees from the Lake Charles area of Louisiana waiting to see how Hurricane Rita will affect their homes. Beebe KARES coordinator Julie Hill said she expected about 100 evacuees from Louisiana and Texas Friday night.
“There are quite a few of these people who know there may not be anything to go back to,” Hill said.
The scene is the same in Lonoke. Mayor Thomas Privett said all mo-tel rooms are full and about 100 were turned away Thursday evening. Rooms are booked for days ahead, he said. After Hurricane Katrina struck on Aug. 29 about 400 evacuees sought shelter in Jack-sonville. Since that time, the city, along with various churches and civic groups, have been coordinating meals, housing and jobs for those displaced by the storm.
Already geared up, they are prepared to do it again for the new evacuees coming in from Texas and Louisiana. “Just like Katrina we’ll be offering evacuees bags of toiletries and necessities if needed,” said Mary Lou Gall, coordinator of the Jacksonville hurricane relief center on South James Street.
“The … evacuees are welcome to eat at our area churches that are providing dinner until the end of the month,” she said.
Sherwood Mayor Bill Harmon said his town wasn’t expecting an influx of people fleeing Hurricane Rita over the weekend.
“We are moving folks out from our shelter at Missionary Baptist Church on Brockington Road,” Harmon said. The shelter is housing about 50 evacuees from Hurricane Katrina. “We’re ready for more if they show up,” Harmon said.
Some evacuees are staying at the Zion Hill Baptist Church in Cabot, Zelnick said. Among them is a 3-day-old baby.
Zelnick said her group stands ready to help as long as they are needed. “Our target date (for ceasing operation) right now is sometime after the first of the year,” she said.
Hill, along with her husband Paul Hill, the Beebe clerk-treasurer, said they knew of at least 25 to 30 evacuees from Hurricane Katrina still in the area.
Beebe KARES operates a hotline for people needing assistance and wanting to give assistance. Julie Hill said donations of non-perishable food, water and cash are needed. The organization will have booth at Beebe Fall Fest Saturday and donations may be made there.
Privett said the city of Lonoke is giving the evacuees free tickets for fair rides and for the fair rodeo. And he intends to fry turkey for them at the community center Saturday.
The hotline number for Beebe KARES is (501) 882-9303. The hotline number for Cabot KARE is (501) 605-0931.