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Hurricane Gustav sends families to area

Thursday, September 11, 2008

U.S. Army Soldiers work to clean up debris left behind by Hurricane Gustav so Louisiana residents can safely return to their homes. U.S. Department of Defense Photo By/U.S. Staff Sgt. Russell Lee Klika
Reynalds and Dee Salvador were just one of many families who made their way to the Hardy area during the Hurricane Gustav evacuation. The Salvadors live in a small town three hours west of New Orleans called Sulphur, La., and were informed of the mandatory evacuation Sunday, Aug. 31, they said.

The Salvadors have been down this road more than once; Gustav is their third really bad hurricane together. The Salvadors started their hurricane history with Hurricane Audrey in 1957. "The people back home started calling me the hurricane kid," Mr. Salvador joked. He said this nickname came from his history of hurricanes.

The Slavadors had visited the Hardy area before, but in September of 2005 they found themselves here under different circumstances when they had to leave their home behind due to Hurricane Rita. During Rita the couple recalls staying at the Best Western in Hardy for just over two weeks. "The community and people here are so great," Reynalds said.

When the Salvadors returned home from Rita they found their roof had been ripped off their home and many of their outside fixtures were gone, but they said they considered themselves lucky compared to what some people endured.

Almost three years after that terrifying storm the couple found themselves back in the same place, the Hardy Best Western. "I don't think the conditions are that bad this time," Dee Salvador said.

The Salvadors have friends who stayed behind and while they worry about them, they constantly think about their two sons who work for the sheriffs' department and have to stay behind while others flee to safety. "While we do worry about them, it is kind of nice to have someone back home who lets us know what's going on," Dee said.

The couple commented on the evacuation process this time compared to Rita and Katrina. When the government first started discussing evacuation, they had airplanes, trains and buses ready to get the citizens with medical problems out first. The couple also said the government opened an extra lane of traffic flowing out of Louisiana which helped the traffic tremendously compared to Rita.

Reynalds said that while he knows no one was prepared for a disaster like Katrina and Rita, he feels that Louisiana's new governor Bobby Jindal is doing an excellent job.

The Salvadors planned to head back home Sept. 4 in hopes that other tropical storms steer clear of them. "We have been here so much, Nimmi (Desai) feels like family," the couple said of the Best Western owner/manager.

Desai said the Best Western started getting calls for reservations Aug. 30 and the phones did not stop once they started. "At one time I was on three phones at once. I had a family who had reservations get lost, so I was on one phone with them, one phone with a relative in Little Rock trying to find out where they were, and one phone for the hotel taking reservations and answering questions," Desai said.

During Katrina and Rita a shelter was opened at the Ash Flat Church of Christ for the storm victims. According to Desai, guests would arrive and they would have to check in at the shelter to get their lodging assistance and meals.

Desai said, unfortunately, there was not a shelter close this time. "When I started getting reservations, I got on the phone to try to find out what was arranged for the victims this time, but of course, on a Sunday night I could not get hold of FEMA."

Desai said the American Red Cross finally contacted her on Monday telling her the evacuees were not getting lodging assistance at this time and she was to send them to the shelter in Jonesboro.

"Many of the guests arrived late in the night and slept late into the day, but when I informed them all of the situation, many of them packed to go back home because of lack of funds for lodging," Desai said. "I felt so sorry for them. I didn't think it was right that they had traveled all this way and then were told to go another three hours for free lodging. This was a natural disaster that these people had no control over."

Desai informed the guests who had stayed that she had received a fax from FEMA with an 800 number for lodging assistance but the fax didn't come until Thursday morning and most of the guests had already headed home.

The Days Inn in Hardy also hosted between 15 and 20 evacuated families. "When I say families, I mean pets and all. Even though we don't usually allow pets, we made an exception this time," the desk clerk on duty said.

The Spring River Lodge in Hardy said they accommodated about 10 families, renting 14 rooms. The clerk at Spring River Lodge said that some of their guests contacted local churches to help with lodging.

The evacuation order was lifted Sept. 2 and many of the families staying in the Hardy area packed up and headed home.

James Dufrene, another evacuee, said he may wait a little longer to see what course the other storms take. Dufrene, who is a disabled veteran, said that his stay would depend on his insurance and if they uphold the disaster additional cost of living he took out for events like this.

"While it is quieter and smaller than I am used to, I have found, this being my first time here, that the people are very helpful and genuinely concerned for the storm victims," Dufree said.

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