Prior to last December, Joe Amerling and Lance Vitter were absolute strangers. The two law enforcement officers were brought together by a double homicide of two men from Gainesville in St. Tammany Parish, La.
Vitter, an investigator with the St. Tammany Sheriff’s Office, has made several trips to Gainesville to interview persons with possible knowledge of the Dec. 12 slayings of Felipe Alonzo Maximo, 26, and Miguel Angel Ayala, 30, two poultry workers whose bodies were found at separate sites on Interstate 12, in the New Orleans’ suburb.
On Saturday, the two officers were talking when Vitter talked about the need to get his wife and two daughter out of the path of Hurricane Gustav.
Amerling and his wife, Jane White, have a furnished home on Riverside Drive that is not currently occupied. He extended the offer for the family to come to Gainesville. After a grueling 12-hour drive, Nathalie Vitter, her daughters, Sarah and Ashley, her in-laws, Bobby and Carol Vitter, and her sister-in-law, Chemae Landry, arrived in Gainesville in the wee hours of Sunday morning.
Bobby Vitter, a retired pipe fitter, said getting out of Louisiana and Mississippi was tough.
"You could normally reach Gainesville in seven or eight hours," he said, adding that hotels along the route had cars double parked and every public rest area was packed with refugees from the hurricane.
Bobby and Carol Vitter have heard from friends that their hometown of Ponchatoula, La., north of Lake Pontchartrain, has sustained more damage than it did during Hurricane Katrina.
"The water is rising and it may be two or three weeks before the electricity is back on," he said.
Nathalie Vitter, who lives in Madisonville, La., said her husband has reported that the water on Tuesday was continuing to rise, but was hopeful that it would not impact their home. Three years ago, during Katrina, she said they lost more than 30 trees.
The family was comfortable at the home in Gainesville and was watching cable news accounts of the damage reports.
Chemae Landry, Bobby and Carol’s daughter, had come to Louisiana for a visit and found herself unable to get a return flight to her home in Charleston, S.C. She came with them to Gainesville and was hopeful of renting a car to drive to her home to prepare for Hurricane Hanna, which could strike the South Carolina coast.
Ashley Vitter turns 5 today and will celebrate her birthday in Gainesville. While here, the family hopes to visit Interactive Neighborhood for Kids and Babyland General Hospital.
Lance Vitter, meanwhile, has been living in a Louisiana shelter where air conditioning has not been restored.