RV Parks Offer Shelter for Gustav Evacuees
Countless RV parks from eastern Texas to the northern areas of Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Georgia provided emergency shelter over the Labor Day weekend for some of the nearly 2 million evacuees fleeing Hurricane Gustav.
Eight deaths were attributed to the storm in the U.S. after it killed at least 94 people across the Caribbean.
Evacuees couldn’t say enough good things about Tom Landis, owner of the Shreveport/Bossier City KOA, located in the northwest corner of Louisiana.
Landis was booked full for the Labor Day weekend but on Wednesday (Aug. 27) when officials urged the evacuation along the Gulf, he canceled all reservations to make room for the evacuees.
“We’re at 170% capacity,” he told Woodall's Campground Management. “Sites are double-packed. They’re in Class A’s, B’s, pop-ups, trailers, tents, you name it. I’ve even got someone in a 1956 trailer. But we’ve kept our standards. I’m not letting ‘junk’ in here. But it’s a time to bend the rules.”
He didn’t charge for extra people, even though “we have people on top of people,” he continued. “We gave 15% off to seniors and probably gave away 15% in free nights.”
When a truck stop down the road charged $10 and $15 to National Guardsmen for a shower, they turned to Landis, who provided free showers. Hundreds took advantage of the offer.
“One guardsman got off her truck and told me, ‘You’re our hero.’ I said, 'No, you’re our hero,’” and she cried, Landis relayed.
Some evacuees told him they likely lost everything in the storm. One of them, Maxine Noel, left her home in Montague, La., Friday afternoon with her young daughter and fiancée. They found shelter in a cabin at Landis’ park.
“I don’t think we can go home, our town got the worst of it,” Noel said. “I don’t think we will be allowed to home until, early next week.” Her home is located due north of Cocodrie, a low-lying community in Louisiana's Cajun country, where Gustav made landfall as a Category 2 storm at 9:30 a.m. Monday. Forecasters feared the storm would arrive as a devastating Category 4.
Buck McGee, general manager of Camper’s RV Center in the Shreveport area, hosted dozens of evacuees at his 56-site park and provided repair service to many others.
“They started arriving Friday afternoon from all over the Gulf Coast,” said McGee. “Normally we could refer them to state parks around here, but they were all booked full for the holiday.”
McGee recounted how one of the evacuees had recently purchased a used motorhome as “an escape vehicle” in case of hurricane “but he never expected to use it so soon. This is a terrible time to break in a new RV.”
Gary Pierson, one of the owners of Shiloh RV & Travel Resort in Monroe, La., said his 90-site park filled up quickly with evacuees and he “made room” for overflow. He expects evacuees to begin heading back south later this week.
“This is not nearly as bad as Katrina. We had people here for two months back then,” he said.
Mary Sonnier, owner of Rolling Hills RV Park and Resort in Pollock, La., and Marson's Landing 20 miles away in Boyce, quickly filled her two campgrounds late in the week end let the overflow evacuees park in a 33-acre primitive site in Pollock.
“Every RV had a minimum of 15 people in them. It was unreal,” she said. “It reminded me of a rock music festival.”
She estimated that her two parks hosted 600 evacuees. Some left on Labor Day night and drove further north to escape Gustav before it hit Pollock. When it did that evening, it brought with it sustained 85 mph winds and 13’' of rain, she said. Power went out everywhere as numerous trees came down during the storm.
The rain stopped mid-afternoon Tuesday and campers began taking stock of damage. “We made it through,” she announced, amid the cleanup effort.
A veteran of several hurricane evacuation efforts, Sonnier graded this one smoother and better organized as evacuees seemed better prepared for Hurricane Gustav, she said.
“I told people to bring their generators because I knew we were going to lose power and we did,” she said.