County shelters refugees

Published 10:18 pm Friday, September 5, 2008

Karen Smith and her four children, who live near the causeway in New Orleans, made their way to Andalusia Sunday after leaving her husband to “protect their home.”

“We rent and everything we got is inside that house,” Smith said. “He had to stay there to protect it. We were headed to Florida, but this is as far as we made it. Thank God this place was here.”

Smith and her family are one of more than 80 families from south Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana who took shelter at the American Red Cross shelter at the Lurleen B. Wallace Community College conference center this weekend as Hurricane Gustav slowly approached the U.S. coastline.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Gustav hit around 9:30 a.m. near Cocodrie (pronounced ko-ko-DREE), a low-lying community in Louisiana’s Cajun country 72 miles southwest of New Orleans, as a Category 2 storm on a scale of 1 to 5. The storm weakened to a Category 1 later in the afternoon.

Currently, the governor’s office is reporting an estimated 12,200 evacuees are currently being sheltered in 64 Alabama shelters.

Jeffery Biggs, executive director of the Covington County Chapter of the American Red Cross, said shelters were opened at both of the LBWCC campuses; however, no one utilized the shelter in Opp.

“I realize that’s far off the evacuation route, but we wanted to have it ready in case it was needed,” Biggs said. “All of our shelters were ready to open if needed, but we felt that the best course of action was to utilize the ones at the two-year college system first and then backfill if needed.”

Volunteers from average citizens to police and medical personnel were working to man the shelter at LBWCC Monday. Local restaurants and merchants donated food for the evacuees.

As busloads of evacuees from Louisiana were shipped all over the U.S. in anticipation of Gustav, many of the residents utilized their own personal vehicles as their method of evacuation.

“Right now, we’ve not had any of the buses that you’re seeing on the news,” he said. “Everyone here so far has driven in their own vehicle, some people as many as 16 hours just to get here.”

And that’s just what Trudy and Wilson Shuvin of Metairie, La., did.

The couple left their home in Jefferson Parrish around 10 a.m. on Sunday and arrived at the shelter in early hours of Monday morning. They braved horrendous traffic and heat during their trip to safety, they said.

“They were pushing people out; it’s a mandatory evacuation,” said Trudy Shuvin. “We didn’t want to go, but we knew we had to. We didn’t want to stay there without any utilities.

“I don’t know how we found our way here, but I’m glad we did,” she said. “I’m worried about our family. Cell phones don’t work out there.

“Everyone here has given 120 percent to make sure we’re comfortable,” she said. “I’m thankful to God that we had a place to sleep. We’re going to stay until they tell us it’s safe to go back home.”

Gustav was the seventh named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season. The eighth, Hanna, became a hurricane yesterday afternoon.