Greenville refuge for evacuees

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 31, 2005

On Monday, Greenville’s motels were overflowing with evacuees fleeing the possible wrath of Hurricane Katrina.

Motel managers like the Jameson Inn’s Sam Ellis were swamped with calls from those seeking shelter from the storm.

&uot;We’ve been trying to get people rooms…we’ve had some cancellations and that’s helped. But we’ve had to turn away, oh my goodness, so many people,&uot; a weary Ellis said mid-morning on Monday.

Ellis said her staff had directed some evacuees to shelters in Prattville and Montgomery when there were no motel or hotel rooms to be had.

&uot;You want to help people out. This is such a devastating time for them, you know,&uot; Ellis said.

The prevailing attitude among storm refugees seemed to be &uot;We’re not taking any chances.&uot;

‘We’d better get out’

&uot;It looked like it was coming right at us. We figured we’d better get out,&uot; Bryan Becker, a resident of Poplarville, Miss., said. The city is located near the Gulf coast between Hattiesburg and Picayune.

On Monday morning, Becker and his wife Rebecca were watching the latest TV updates on the hurricane, as they and fellow storm refugees did their best to relax in the hospitality room at the Jameson Inn.

As the storm progressed, the couple was also keeping in touch via cell phone with neighbors back home in Mississippi.

&uot;They said two trees just went down, but they didn’t hit either of our houses. So that is great,&uot; Mrs. Becker reported with relief after their latest phone conversation.

While they chose to evacuate, the Beckers said most of their neighbors elected to stay put.

As the couple watched the torrential rains and 125-mph winds of the then-Category 3 hurricane rip into the coastline, they said they were not sorry they headed east.

&uot;A friend of mine in Louisiana who has a houseboat told me shrimp boats are breaking loose and coming down the bayou. It’s a mess,&uot; Bryan Becker commented as he stirred his morning coffee.

&uot;We got lucky – there happened to be a cancellation here and we were able to get a room,&uot; Mrs. Becker said.

Hoping for a roof

The Beckers expressed hopes their home, which is approximately two years old, will still be standing when they return.

&uot;We live on the highest hill in town, so we probably won’t get water damage from this,&uot; Mrs. Becker said.

&uot;No, but I bet we will get some kind of damage from this. I just hope we still have a roof,&uot; her husband interjected.

Becker, a boat captain servicing offshore oil platforms, said he feared the worst for coastal oil production.

&uot;That area,&uot; he said, pointing to a region off the coast of Mississippi and Louisiana being shown on the television screen, &uot;is the most dangerous. It is absolutely loaded with platforms and some of them are more than 20 years old. They could snap off and sink, just like that.&uot;

Becker shook his head as he mulled over the potential catastrophe.

&uot;After Hurricane Andrew, there were boats ending up with holes in them from hitting those sunken platforms. Frankly, I’ll be scared to go offshore…it’s going to be unbelievable. And gas is going to shoot way up,&uot; he said.

Like the Beckers, Tina Shipp of Gulf Shores said most of her neighbors didn’t leave their homes.

&uot;So many left when Dennis came, and then not much happened, so a lot of people decided to stay this time,&uot; Shipp said.

Economics were a factor for many, she said.

&uot;I think a lot of people just didn’t feel they could afford another evacuation. Some of my neighbors said it was either pay their rent or spend money to leave, but not both,&uot; she added.

The single parent said she would probably have stuck it out in her Gulf Shores apartment had it not been for her children.

&uot;I have them for the summer…and you know, you just don’t want to take any chances,&uot; Shipp said.

Missing: one Jacuzzi

The young woman was anxious for news from Gulf Shores. &uot;Hey, could you just move a few miles down the coast?&uot; Shipp said half-jokingly as she listened to a reporter broadcast from nearby Orange Beach.

She didn’t want to see any more devastation to the place known as &uot;Pleasure Island.&uot;

&uot;There are still so many places in Gulf Shores that haven’t been repaired or torn down from Ivan last year. I guess some places would be better off if they blew away…I don’t think their owners can afford to repair them,&uot; Shipp said with a wry grin.

While she hoped to return home on Tuesday, Shipp wasn’t sure what to expect concerning the roads. She was also concerned about the possibility of tornadoes, &uot;which scare me more than any hurricane.&uot;

&uot;I just hope my apartment complex is OK. I have contents insurance, but what do you do if the building gets destroyed?&uot; she shrugged.

There are few rental units available in the area due to the many workers who have come in to rebuild after Ivan, Shipp said.

&uot;I’m just hoping everything is going to be OK this time around,&uot; she said.

As for the Beckers, they were trying to keep a positive attitude, in spite of the latest news from back home.

&uot;Our Jacuzzi’s gone – and it was filled with water. Don’t know where it went,&uot; a bemused Bryan Becker shared.