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Gustav evacuees had long, hard trip to Gainesville

Some may not return to Gulf Coast

POSTED: September 5, 2008 5:01 a.m.

Hurricane Gustav’s path through Gulf Coast states has done little to affect this area’s weather, except for stirring up some clouds and breezes.

The storm swirled into the fishing villages and oil-and-gas towns of Louisiana’s Cajun country Monday, delivering only a glancing blow to New Orleans that did little more than send water sloshing harmlessly over its rebuilt floodwalls.

It was the first test of New Orleans’ new and improved levees, which still are being rebuilt three years after Hurricane Katrina. And it was a powerful demonstration of how federal, state and local officials learned some of the painful lessons of the catastrophic 2005 storm that killed 1,600 people.

But some evacuees from that area have made their way here.

Annette Hudson and her husband Jerry arrived in Gainesville early Monday morning and checked into the Holiday Inn Lanier Centre.

They had just completed a 24-hour trek from their home near New Orleans, including one brutal strip of Interstate 59 in Mississippi, where traffic crawled at 5 mph for eight hours. Traffic finally began to pick up past Meridian.

Law enforcement along the way "wouldn’t let us get off into a town to even use a bathroom," Annette Hudson said.

"I felt like we as evacuees kinda just got totally forgotten about (Sunday)," she said.

The couple’s home "looks like it’s OK so far, and we may get to go back," Hudson said.

The Hudsons traveled to this area because "my daughter went to Brenau, so we know Gainesville," she added.

They plan to stay "as long as we have to," Hudson said. "... If we can’t get back home for three weeks, then we’re going to go ... we’re not sure where. We’ll just travel."

The couple is, like many others, keeping an eye on other storm systems.

Gustav was the seventh named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season. The eighth grew into Hurricane Hanna on Monday, followed quickly by the formation of Tropical Storm Ike a few hours later.

Forecasters said it could come ashore in Georgia and South Carolina late in the week.

The Hudsons are thinking about long-term plans.

"We’re kind of thinking we’re tired of (evacuations)," Annette said. "I was born and raised there, so that’s kind of hard. ... We may just see what’s going to happen. Every three years, we can’t do this.

"We have to find a place that is as charming as New Orleans to live in, so we’re looking around."

Electricians and friends Aaron Plecenik and David Green, along with Lisa James and Louise West, also fled New Orleans, fearing another Hurricane Katrina, which put the city under water nearly three years ago.

They have been staying at the Days Inn off Queen City Parkway in Gainesville.

The group spent Monday monitoring the storm and getting some relief that the storm wasn’t delivering a devastating blow.

West said, however, that she doesn’t want to return to the area to live.

"I feel like you put your life first. You just can’t keep on worrying about is there going to be another storm today or tomorrow," she said.

Cheryl Vandiver of the American Red Cross’ Northeast Georgia Chapter said the agency has been preparing for a response to Gustav since Thursday.

"As of (Monday), we are sending our emergency response vehicle to Atlanta and from there, it will go on to one of the welcome centers or rest sites," she said.

Workers will "help feed and give water to people and add some comfort to their trip," she said.

No shelter is open in Hall County, but the chapter is referring people who need a shelter to call 866-438-4636.

"We’re also on the ready for Hanna, when that comes in the other way," Vandiver said. "We’ve had all that in the back of our minds and the possibility of opening shelters for that."



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