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|Evacuees find warm reception at St. Alban's|
Ernest Guidry and Gilbert Harang heard about a shelter at St. Alban's Church while standing in line to enter the Monroe Civic Center.
Guidry fled Abbeville with his family as Hurricane Gustav scooted across the Gulf of Mexico toward Louisiana. Harang left his home in Longville, running from Gustav, too, to seek shelter in Monroe.
Guidry and Harang were eventually turned away from the Civic Center because it had already filled to capacity with evacuees from south Louisiana.
More than 7,000 evacuees are thought to be staying in local shelters in the Monroe/West Monroe area.
When Hurricane Rita struck southern Louisiana in 2005, Guidry and his family evacuated to Pensacola, Fla.
With Hurricane Hanna looming in the Atlantic, Guidry said there was no way he was taking his family to Florida this time around.
Like many evacuees, Guidry found shelters in Monroe/West Monroe were at capacity by the time he arrived in town.
"We were waiting at the (Civic Center) shelter when some guy from the Red Cross told us about this church's shelter," Guidry said. "Thank God for that. It's a blessing. They're very nice and they've accommodated us well. It's been beautiful."
Harang is originally from New Orleans, but he now lives in Longville near Lake Charles. He evacuated from hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
"I'm a professional evacuee," Harang said Monday as he rummaged through his clothes inside the trunk of his car.
Harang was standing in line near Guidry at the Civic Center Sunday when he overheard the Red Cross worker mention there was a shelter at St. Alban's Church on Deborah Drive in Monroe.
By midday Monday, St. Alban's had 28 evacuees staying at the church as Hurricane Gustav tore through their hometowns.
Grace Houston said St. Alban's is at capacity, but it is still accepting donations and necessities for the evacuees.
She said Tommy Smith with the Monroe Athletic Club has allowed St. Alban's evacuees to use showers at the club.
"This is a small parish, but yesterday when we had the meeting, our conference room was full with people asking what they could do to help," Houston said. "I think that's the attitude that most of this church family has. Everybody has pitched in and done what's necessary."
As Gustav ripped into Louisiana's Gulf Coast parishes Monday, Harang was busy watching news casts to see how those parishes were faring.
Guidry didn't want to watch any of it, though.
Harang's father remained in New Orleans to ride out the storm.
"He said there was power, nothing off, and he slept well last night," Harang said. "It's raining, but it wasn't as bad as it was made out to be. They said the water was coming over the levee, but it never gave, which is not a bad thing."
Guidry's father and brother remained in Abbeville, too. They told him Monday that there was plenty of rain and wind, but the weather wasn't too bad.
Both Guidry and Harang hope to return to their homes later this week.
"I'm like Dorothy: there's no place like home," Harang said, clicking his heels and laughing. "But these people are great. They've welcomed us here and they're very friendly. I've really enjoyed my time here."
Dustin Hebert, a professor at McNeese State University, has friends who attend St. Alban's Church, and like many in Lake Charles, he headed north over the weekend.
On Monday, he was helping St. Alban's volunteers.
Hebert said Calcasieu Parish declared a mandatory evacuation at noon Sunday. Most people in southwest Louisiana heeded that advice, according to Hebert.
"Thankfully the storm weakened as it crossed the Gulf, so hopefully it will be downgraded when it comes to us," he said, referring to the Lake Charles region.
"All of the projections put us on the southwest side, so I guess we're on the best side," Hebert continued. "We do have flooding concerns, especially around the lake. There's several waterways that run through the parish, so flooding is a concern in those areas. Other than the water rising in those waterways, I don't think there's a concern with flooding.
"I think the major concern is with the industries. More than 400,000 gallons of fuel are refined each day in Lake Charles. So there's that concern the storm is going to affect the platforms in the Gulf, and the refineries in Baton Rouge and Lake Charles. We'll just have to wait and see. I think with the storm weakening, and the eye being on the west side, there's less concern now than initially."