Leader Blues

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

TOP STORY > >Evacuees eager to return

By JEFFREY SMITH
Leader staff writer

The effects of Hurricane Gustav were felt Sunday in Cabot as motels were filled to capacity with families and their pets as they evacuated from the Gulf Coast.

Evacuees didn’t escape the storm completely, as remnants of Gustav started dumping rain in central Arkansas early Tuesday morning.

The National Weather Service expects three to six inches to fall by late Thursday.

Deborah Hollier, of La Place, La., arrived at Days Inn on Sunday with husband, Johnnie; daughter, Taylor, and son, Tyler. Her family was part of an 11-family, three-car caravan. She had four more family members on their way to join them.

She brought along their five dogs, two cats and a bird, but they could go back Thursday.

“I wouldn’t have left without them. They are like family,” said Hollier.

She said they were staying in Cabot because it was the first available motel she could find that accepted pets.

The motels filled up fast. Hollier said a lot of people made their reservations ahead of time, and risked losing money if they did not arrive. Now they’re ready to head home.

In Jacksonville, the Days Inn was totally filled before the weekend and is booked for the week with evacuees.

The Econo Lodge also has about 25 families staying there, avoiding the hurricane.

Hollier said her family lives in a mobile home 30 miles from New Orleans and decided to head north on Friday to escape the hurricane‘s wrath.

“We are on the eastern side of the eye, and that is the worse side to be on. They were predicting a Category 3,” said Hollier.

“It took 13 hours to get here. According to MapQuest, it should have taken seven hours. The traffic wasn’t bumper-to-bumper but heavy to Jackson, Miss,” she said.

Hollier added, “We never stopped to eat, we brought sandwiches and fried chicken. The rest areas were very crowded, we almost parked on the interstate. People were sleeping in lawn chairs next to their cars. The gas stations were crowded. Some places near home didn’t have gas by the time we left.”

“It is very expensive to evacuate — between $1,000 to $1,500 per family,” said Hollier.

She said the experience of evacuating from a hurricane is horrible — from bringing outdoor items to the indoors at her and at her mother’s home, to packing the car.

“You are cramped. Nobody in the family can agree on anything. Everybody is stressed, nobody has slept for the last 24 hours, and everyone is on their last nerve,” Hollier said,

She said there is the added stress of not knowing if you are going to go home and have a house standing.

“It sucks. It takes too long. I don’t like it because I have to leave home for a very long time,” said Tyler Hollier, 13.

“I think it hurts to evacuate, because when you go home, it may not still be there,” said Taylor Hollier, 15.

“Some of my friends have evacuated and some haven’t, and that makes me worry, because I don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said.

Deborah Hollier said when they leave for a hurricane they go to a new location each time to see a different place. This was the family’s first trip to Arkansas.

“We went to San Antonio for Hurricane Katrina. It was horrible with the drive and getting lost. We stayed there for about a week,” said Hollier. She said when they returned home they were without electricity for about a week. She worked at a bakery at the time and it didn’t start back until a month later because the bakery could not get the ingredients shipped in.

Hollier added that it was unreal having the National Guard in front of the all the grocery stores to prevent looting. She said only so many people could enter the store at one time and there was no milk, meat, or cold foods available.

Jessica Mayfield of Orange, Texas, came to Days Inn as part of a six-car family caravan with 15 adults, three children, four teenagers and three dogs.

She said the family chose Cabot, an eight-hour drive, because they have friends and family living in the area. Her husband, Damon, is a lab technician at the Temple-Inland paper mill, where the plant has its own power house for electricity, and he had to stay behind.

Mayfield said, “We left at 1 a.m. Sunday, between the voluntary and mandatory evacuations. The traffic started picking up at 3 and 4 a.m.

Tori Hodges, a cousin of Mayfield’s from Sulfur, La., said, “I-10 westbound took an hour to get 20 miles.”

Mayfield had evacuated when Hurricane Rita struck. That hurricane forced her mother and grandmother, who both live in Singer, La., to move into new homes.

“The challenge of an evacuation is trying to put together enough essentials items. You pack for the worst and hope for the best, and leave with the mindset that I might not came back to a home,” said Mayfield.

“My kids thinks it’s a vacation. They are adaptable, They have concerns about the house and understand what is going on with the hurricane. My son, Peyton, who is 9, packed things that were important to him — an award from church camp, a football jersey and a Bible.”

At the Super 8 motel, Justin Carpenter, a student at Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge, and his family from Lake Charles, La., evacuated in a caravan of four vehicles carrying 10 people and a dog. Carpenter said they chose to stay in Cabot because they could visit with family-friends, Odis and Barbara Waymack, instead of a hotel in northern Louisiana.

Carpenter said the trip took 10 hours, instead of seven. He said it is nerve-racking sitting in traffic — it’s aggravating, hot, and you have to have patients.

“It is a hurry-up-and-wait with a hurricane. You have to leave, stop your life and wait for the hurricane to hit your home,” said Carpenter.

“Everything you leave is of monetary value and can be replaced, but you can’t buy a new mom, dad or siblings,” he said.

Carpenter said LSU, which began the fall semester last week, was officially closed until Wednesday, and the school would text message students when classes are scheduled to resume.

“Hopefully Thursday, so we can have our football game on Saturday,” Carpenter added.

With the hurricane plans Carpenter said that Gov. Bobby Jindal did a good job getting the National Guard out to New Orleans.

They were evacuating New Orleans by the busloads all day Sunday.

Peggy Harris, a front desk clerk at the Super 8 motel, said, “We had people from Hurricane Katrina and now we are glad to be of help in any we can.”