Lester Williams, 53, stayed in his New Orleans house during Hurricane Katrina, but when he heard that Hurricane Gustav was coming, he decided it was time to go.
Mr. Williams was among the 153 people, six dogs and two birds evacuated to a Red Cross shelter at the Brainerd Recreation Center, a location he said was far enough away from the storm for him to relax and feel safe.
“I’m grateful that I’m here,” Mr. Williams said. “You can’t really tell until you go through something like that.”
Staff Photo by Shane McMillan
Brainerd High School cafeteria manager Wanda Witherow, left, and Parks and Recreation receptionist Sue Gorman pile cookies and dinner onto a cart at the Brainerd Recreation Center on Sunday. The center is being used as temporary housing for more than 150 people who evacuated their homes ahead of Hurricane Gustav.
The shelter on Moore Road has a place for evacuees to sleep and offers hot showers, three meals a day, a play room for children and a safe place for family pets.
The Tennessee National Guard helped evacuate about 3,500 people from Louisiana and Mississippi, flying them to Air National Guard bases in Knoxville and Nashville and helping transport them to Red Cross shelters across the state.
Chattanooga Red Cross spokeswoman Claudia Moore said the well-coordinated effort is the result of the lessons learned from Katrina.
“We were getting people that had been in the same clothes, had waded through water, had been three or four days without their homes,” she said about the post-Katrina evacuation in 2005. “These folks are in much better shape because they were able to prepare, pack, bring things from home — they weren’t just flooded out and had nothing.”
Forecasters said Gustav was likely to grow stronger as it swirled toward the coast with top sustained winds of around 115 mph. At 8 p.m. EDT Sunday, the National Hurricane Center said Gustav was a Category 3 storm centered about 175 miles southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River and moving northwest near 17 mph.
Residents of the west bank of New Orleans, who dodged the bullet last time, might not be as lucky this time, forecasters said, as storm surge and high winds threaten area levies.
Alvin Jones, of Gretna, La., said his roof caved in and the balcony of his two-story home fell off during Katrina, but the flooding in his community on the western bank of the Mississippi wasn’t as bad as his neighbors to the east. He had originally planned to wait out Gustav, but when he realized it was headed to the west, he decided to leave.
“When I found out how bad it was,” he said, “(I decided) it’s time to go.”
His wife and two young sons left for Memphis on Saturday morning, and he hopes to rejoin his family as soon as the storm passes.
At the Super 8 Motel in East Ridge off Interstate 75, seven members of the Videau family, also from Gretna, were bracing themselves for what would follow.
“This is taking our homes,” Marcia Videau, 51, said. “ I know how those people feel over on the East Bank — now,” she said. “Because I’m about to lose mine, tomorrow, in a few hours, it’s going to be washed away.”
Her daughter, Tedra Augusta, 25, feared the storm might deal the blow from which New Orleans might not recover.
“Everybody who was devastated in New Orleans ran to the west bank, and now they don’t have that to run to,” she said. “We don’t have that now.”
Mr. Jones, whose family has lived in the community for more than three generations, said he’ll do whatever it takes to return.
“I love Gretna,” he said. “I can’t wait to get back home, if I have a home.”
Others said they’ve had enough, however.
After Hurricane Katrina, 68-year-old Charles Sanville lived in a FEMA trailer while his house in East New Orleans was gutted and rebuilt. He said no other place has the food, the music and the people, but he isn’t sure he’ll go back to New Orleans this time.
“I feel like I want to give up New Orleans,” he said. “I’ve had enough of that. I’m too old for that.”